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The Church Triumphant May 12, 2019

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Revelation 7:9-17

All Saints’ Day

November 1, 2015

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter (edited slightly to preach in a new congregation)

May 12, 2019

Focus:  God saves His people.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice with the church triumphant.

Structure:  .

 

The Church Triumphant

 

Today I want to look at the book we talk so little about, even though it may be the book people want to talk about the most: Revelation.  For a letter that can be summed up in the two simple words “God wins,” it definitely has its twists and turns.  It’s darkness and light.  Pain and glory.  Suffering and joy.

And there would be no one who knows that better than John.  Revelation is just that: a revelation.  God revealed this vision of the end of the world to His child, to our brother John.  And John recorded it for us.

We often avoid talking about Revelation for a number a reasons.  It’s hard to talk about because it’s unfulfilled prophecy.  The prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, those are easy, we saw them fulfilled in Christ.  We can use them to talk about our Savior.  But what do we do with these prophecies that haven’t been fulfilled?  That we’re still waiting for?  In fact, that have caused so much confusion, Christians can’t even agree on what they’re talking about.

We avoid Revelation because in some ways, the early church did.  That’s not to say they didn’t like it or that they buried it away.  Quite the contrary, but it wasn’t used as often the gospels or Paul’s letters.

And then sometimes we avoid it because it’s just plain dark.  Apocalypse?  Death?  A great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns?  The two beasts?  Seals and trumpets and the very battles of war?

It’s not the easiest stuff to talk about.  But it’s in this context that we find our text for today.  John has a vision of the seven-sealed scroll.  As the seals were broken one by one, John saw a rider on a white horse with a bow and a crown riding forth to conquer.  A red horse whose rider would take peace from the earth, leaving many to be slaughtered with the sword.  A third, a black horse, with a weighing scale in hand.  The fourth a ghostly green horse with death as its rider, bringing the graves of famine and sword and wild beasts.  The four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The fifth seal brought about the cries of those who have been martyred, killed for their faith.  The sixth saw an earthquake, a blood moon, a sun doused in blackness, the stars falling to the earth, the mountains and islands moving as the heavens are ripped open.  These seals are all ways that man inflicts suffering upon his fellow man.  In our sin, these are the ways we harm one another.

But then there’s a pause.  There’s an interlude, a break from these seals. A break from all this darkness.  And John is shown two more things, two very beautiful things.  Two things that bring comfort, comfort to him, comfort to us.  The first comes before our text, at the start of chapter 7.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

 

These are the people of God.  Marked by God.  Sealed by God.  It’s not the first time the tribes of Israel were sealed.  There’s a connection here to the Passover, where the angel of God waited for the Israelites to be sealed, a mark of blood on their doorposts.  And when the angel saw that mark, he spared them, he moved on.  Saved by the blood of the lamb.  By the mark of God.

But it’s not past tense.  These 144,000 are the people of God.  Israel is no longer a physical nation.  It’s a people, it’s the church.  That’s an entirely different sermon.  But we are the 144,000.  It’s a number of numbers.  A number of completion.  Twelve squared, the number of tribes and the number of the disciples of Christ.  Twelve squared times ten cubed.  Ten, roundness, perfection, three times the number of the Trinity.  Revelation does a lot with numbers.  Again, a different sermon.

It is enough today simply to know that you are the people of Revelation chapter 7.  You are the church militant as it is often called.  The military, the army of God.  His people, created for a purpose, with things to do, with a war to be fought.  For as long as we live, we are a part of the church militant, the church here on earth.

And then there’s our text for the day.  Part two of this interlude.  Part two of this vision of comfort.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 

John is given a vision of a people too numerous to count gathered around the throne of God, rejoicing, celebrating, worshipping the Lord.  They’re clothed in white, like the martyrs, like the angels.  They’re holding palm branches in their hands just like the men and women who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.  And they’re shouting out and they’re proclaiming: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And as they did, the angels shout amen, in loud agreement.

As John talks to one of the elders of heaven, he learns who these people are.  “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  They are the church triumphant.  They are the men and women who have gone before us.  The saints who have passed on the faith to us.  These are the people of God who were once part of the church militant, part of His kingdom on this earth.

That time has come and gone.  They’ve fought the good fight as Paul likes to say.  They’ve won the race.   They’ve lived, they’ve loved, but most of all, God has loved them.  Genie, Jo, Marie, Lois, Lena, and the rest of the multitudes of heaven.  Loved by God.

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Peace.  Beauty.  Tranquility.  A wonderful picture of rest, of joy, and of love.

We’ve already mentioned the Passover, the mark, the seal that was the blood of the Lamb.  It is that same mark that is upon us.  The blood of the Lamb, the blood of Christ, who in the midst of a Passover celebration, willingly sacrificed Himself, poured out His blood to mark us, to seal us with the very salvation of God.

God saved us.  God saved the church triumphant.  God will save the church militant.  Life with Him in Paradise is the great reward.  It is the hope that we all look forward to, the joy of our homes.  But yet the work is not done, not for the church militant.  We are not yet the church triumphant.  We will someday join them in their rest.  But in the meantime we fight.  Not literally with sword and bullets, but with the sword of the Spirit, the very Word of God.

For as long as we remain on this earth, we preach the good news of a Lamb whose blood can wash away even the worst of stains.  We take up our medic bags, the very forgiveness and comfort given to us by God Himself, and we bandage and stitch up those whom the dragon has torn and battered and bruised.  He devours his own.  But the God of Israel is even willing to die in the place of His enemy.

It is really a beautiful letter with glimpses of judgment and wrath, but also of joy and salvation.  Revelation is packed with some pretty powerful stuff.  I’m sure we’ll talk about it again someday, but for today, it is enough to know that we are the church militant, that we join together with the church triumphant, with the saints who have gone before us, we join with them in rejoicing, in praising the Lord and the Lamb for their good gifts to us.  And while we wait in the certain hope of joining them in Paradise, we live on, we fight on, we march on.

 

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The Faith of Saul Confirmed May 5, 2019

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Acts 9:1-22

Third Sunday of Easter (Confirmation)

May 5, 2019

Focus:  God rescues even His enemies (that’s us!) from death.

Function:  That the hearers lead a life of faith, hearing God’s Word and sharing it with others.

Structure:  This is the history of the text…here is the meaning for us now.

 

The Faith of Saul Confirmed

 

A month ago, I was invited to preach over at the Lutheran High School on Acts 7, the stoning of Stephen.  Here we have a man set aside by the apostles to be one of seven who would distribute food.  Their job was to make to make sure that the widows and the orphans of the church were cared for.

And yet, we still see Stephen boldly sharing his faith.  Being a witness, testifying to the truth of Christ.  And ultimately, he gives his own life for that testimony.  The Jews stone Stephen to death for proclaiming Jesus to them.  And it’s there that we meet a man named Saul for the first time in Luke’s writings.  He was present, and he was pleased.

As we move into Acts 8, we hear in verse 3: “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”  Saul is strong in his Jewish faith.  An up-and-coming leader of the Pharisees.  He’s outgoing, he’s eager to do what he thinks needs to be done.  And so he went from house to house, arresting anyone who followed Jesus.

But Luke takes a break from Saul after saying that.  The rest of chapter 8 shows us the opposite of what our ears might expect.  A persecuted church, people being arrested and killed for this new faith?  We might expect it to fizzle out, or for people to hide and keep this faith to themselves, trying to stay safe and out of harm’s way.  At least, that’s what most of us would do.

But again, we see the opposite.  Luke shares how the apostle Philip goes to Samaria, once the capitol and heart of the land of Israel, and preaches the gospel there.  And then God sends Philip to the road where he meets the Ethiopian eunuch and helps him see how all of the Old Testament points people to Christ.  And the eunuch takes that faith back to Ethiopia, where Church tradition teaches that Mark ends up leading a new congregation.

The chapter even includes a man known as Simon the magician, and how he comes to faith.  So in the midst of all of this persecution, the arrests, the beatings, the stonings, the Spirit is creating faith in new people.  The Church, the Bride of Christ, is expanding!

And then we get to our text from today, Acts 9.  Luke returns to telling us about this persecutor of the Church.  We get another piece of the picture.  He’s not just waiting around for a command from his authorities to go and do these things.  Nor is he volunteering to go.  He’s coming up with the ideas himself and seeking to put them into action!  Saul, thinking and speaking of murder, goes to the high priest seeking out permission to go to Damascus and persecute the Church there.

Most of us know that story.  It’s on the way, that Jesus makes an appearance, a light from Heaven, and the voice of God Himself calling out to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  Jesus strikes Saul.  He strikes him with blindness.  He humbles Saul.  He brings him to the realization that he is truly helpless.  He can’t walk on his own.  He can’t find the city on his own.  His plans, no matter how carefully crafted, have been undone in an instant.

And then we get the conversation between God and Ananias.  Ananias knows exactly who Saul is.  He knows exactly why Saul is coming to Damascus.  It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that he was afraid.  And yet God tells him to go, to meet Saul, and to restore his sight.  This man who is an enemy of God, killing God’s followers.  Heal him.  Forgive him.

Ananias obeys the Lord.  He meets Saul, calls him a brother, and gives him the laying on of hands.  Saul’s sight is restored, he gets up, and Ananias baptizes him.

Like Saul, you and I were once enemies of God.  We hated Him, despised His Word, rejected His gifts.  We were enemies.  One of the joyous things about baptism for us as Christians in the Church today, is that most of us don’t remember this.  Most of us were so little, so young when our parents brought us forward, brought us to the font to be baptized with water and the Word.  To have the Holy Spirit create faith in us, and welcome us into God’s family.  From that time as just a baby, we are no longer enemies of God, but sons and daughters of the King!  We know that our sins are forgiven by Christ’s own sacrifice.  And, while we certainly have our own regrets, we don’t have the same regrets of those who were brought to faith later in life.

Now, this works both ways.  It is a blessing to come to faith, whenever it is in life that we hear the Gospel!  So, let’s baptize as many people as we can, training them up in the fear of the Lord.  Those baptized later in life aren’t missing something. They have the benefit of remembering being God’s enemy.  They can remember the hatred, most of them can tell you quite clearly how they felt about God in their past.  They know full well the weight of their sin.  And this helps them see Christ’s death on the cross in a bold and beautiful way.  It is the sin of all of us that hung Him there.

And we are greatly tempted today to forget just how bad our sin really is.  In Luke 7, as Jesus is invited into the home of a Pharisee, we see Him forgive a sinner, a woman despised by the Pharisees.  Her wicked deeds were well known.  But Jesus uses that moment to teach and says: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

This temptation is before you today.  We live in the midst of a world that says there is no sin.  We have Christian churches claiming that they don’t sin anymore.  And we have a culture that says anything goes.  “Do whatever you want.  You can be whoever you want to be.  You can achieve whatever you want to achieve for yourself, and have whatever you want in this life.”  That’s been a basic teaching of our culture for the last couple of generations at least.  They teach that you are basically good.  And “don’t you dare let someone tell you that your dreams or how you want to live your life is wrong.”

But if we fall for this trap, and that’s exactly what it is, a lie of the devil, we become like the Pharisees Jesus was teaching that day.  We become the ones thinking there’s so little, if anything, for God to forgive.  “Why go to church?  I’m basically a good person, I don’t need to go to church to be saved or to hear that same old thing each week.  I’m doing pretty well; I can do this on my own.”

pause

Saul knew just how much of a sinner he was.  In his letter to the young pastor Timothy, he even calls himself the chief of sinners.  And yet, this strengthens his faith.  He knows who he was. He knows how much he hated God.  He knows all the terrible things that he has thought and done.  And he knows that Christ has forgiven it all.  The one who is forgiven much, loves much.

Before Ananias went to meet Saul, God told him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.”  That word in Greek for an “instrument,” is simply their word for a “vessel” or a “jar.”  It’s a dish that holds something.  Saul is God’s chosen jar to carry the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. He’s God’s chosen vessel to start any number of new congregations all along the Mediterranean Sea, and even going off towards Rome.  He is God’s chosen jar to write thirteen out of our twenty-seven New Testament books.

But what makes that word study even more striking is its connection to what Saul would write about himself in Philippians 2:17, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.”  God calls Saul a vessel, that would hold, that would carry the good news, like a jar carries water.  And Saul admits that he pours himself out.  He empties himself, he forfeits his life’s aspirations, his life’s goals, his life’s dreams, in order that he might share Christ with any one, and every one.  He gives it all up to serve others.  The one who is forgiven much loves much.

You and I have been forgiven much!  We were once enemies of God, despising everything He stands for.  And even then, He loved you so much that He offered up His own life for yours.  Jesus pours out His own blood on the cross to forgive all of our sins.  And that gift, that offering, that love, is made yours in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We get to see two of those this weekend.  What a gift!  What a blessing, as we welcome Ryker and Avery into God’s family, His kingdom.

And in addition to that, we also celebrate confirmation this weekend.  I confirm no one.  Pastor Otto confirms no one.  Instead, this is these eight young men and women, who were once brought forward by their parents to the waters of baptism, where God created faith in them and claimed them as His own.  They are confirming that faith.  It was once spoken for them.  Now they speak it themselves.  Grasping tightly to the promises of Christ.  Clinging to His Word and to His Sacraments.

My encouragement to you catechumens, confirmands, and also to the rest of the congregation today is this: you are a vessel of God.  You carry with you the good news of a Savior.  This is for your good, that you may always know of the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus, and it is for the good of those around, that they may hear Christ from your lips.

Don’t neglect your faith.  I know I’ve already used the analogy here at St. Matthew a couple of times, but it’s helpful.  The Church is the bucket, and the water inside is the gifts of God, forgiveness and life, offered freely to you in Word and Sacrament.  And you are the sponge.  We gather together here in this holy place to hear God’s Word, and to have our faith encouraged and built up that we may go back out into the world around us and share that love, share those gifts with others.  Just as the sponge leaves the bucket sopping wet and getting everything wet around it.  But the sponge cannot remain wet on its own.  Don’t neglect your faith.  Regularly come to God’s house, to hear His good news for you.  And then, as the Apostle Saul Paul did, pour yourself out as a drink offering in service of your neighbor.

Remember Me April 19, 2019

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Luke 23:39-43

Good Friday

April 19, 2019

 

Focus:  God the Son sacrifices His life for us.

Function:  That the hearers join the lhsthj on the cross in repenting and asking to be remembered.

Structure:  A day’s events.

 

Remember Me

 

It’s always helpful to remember our context when we read God’s Word.  In the Jewish culture, dating all the way back to God’s creation, the day actually begins with the night.  “There was evening, and there was morning, the first day.” – Genesis 1:5

And so, all of Christ’s suffering occurs within the same Hebrew day.  It begins on the night that we call Maundy Thursday, and it continues throughout the night, into the morning, and comes to its conclusion by late afternoon.  As the sun finishes setting on Friday, the day changes again, and it becomes the Sabbath rest.

After instituting a new meal, a new remembrance, a new covenant in the Lord’s Supper late on Thursday, Jesus and the disciples sing a hymn together.  Then, under the cover of dusk, they leave that house and walk to the place known as the Garden of Gethsemane.  They were regular visitors here, in fact, it’s likely where they spent several nights sleeping already that week.  The Garden was an olive press, and being the early spring time of the year, it was out of season, the press was not in use.  It was a quiet place, secluded, giving them the opportunity to rest and recover before another day’s work.

To the disciples, that’s likely exactly what they were expecting.  Having already stayed here the last four nights, it’s just another night.  So Christ’s insistence that they stay awake and keep watch as He prays would have been odd.  And they failed to do it.  Three separate times.  Jesus prayed to the Father, asking that the cup be taken from Him, but ultimately, that the Father’s will be done.

We don’t know the exact details on the timeline of the day.  But the text is clear as we work through it: there was no sleep for Jesus that night.  He prayed in the garden until Judas arrived with the temple officers to arrest Him.  And they do.  And Jesus commands His disciples to stand down, to stand by and allow it to happen.

From there, the officers bring Jesus to the home of the high priest, to the house of Annas and Caiaphas.  And it is there that a secret trial is held so late in the night it is nearly morning.  There were certainly others around, at least a group of interested people who gathered out in the courtyard of the house.  These are the ones who keep pressing on Peter, asking if he isn’t one of Jesus’ disciples, too.

The trial is a sham from the beginning.  The Pharisees already had it in their minds that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy for His claims that He was the Son of God.  And there’s no new information brought forth at this trial.

And so, as the sun rises on a new morning, the verdict of blasphemy is proclaimed, and together, the group drags Jesus before Pontius Pilate, whom the Romans had left in charge of this rowdy, frowned upon area of their empire.  And as the accusations are levied against Jesus in the presence of Pilate, Pilate finds no fault in Him.  And hearing that He’s a Galilean, Pilate gladly sends Jesus off to Herod, as that’s his territory.

It’s a short walk, and perhaps an even shorter trial before Herod.  He had heard over and over again, stories of this Messiah and His miraculous power.  He practically begged Jesus to show him just a glimpse.  He wanted to see it.  And when Jesus simply stood there in silence, Herod declared Him innocent, mocked him, and sent Him back to Pilate’s home.

By this point, it may be around 8 in the morning.  Pilate bows to the whims of the crowd, trying to keep them from causing even more rioting than they already have.  He agrees to their wishes, and declares that Jesus is to be crucified.

Christ is scourged.  The severeness of Christ’s physical suffering begins.  With a leather whip, He is struck repeatedly.  None of the gospel authors give us a number, and although 39 lashes was common among the Jewish people to avoid breaking an Old Testament law, it was Roman soldiers who beat Him.

And then they continued.  They fastened a crown made from a plant with large thorns, and they forced it on Christ’s head.  They mocked Him, struck Him, spit on Him.  And then they stripped Him of the fancy garments they had just put on Him.

At this point, Jesus is so battered, the soldiers force a traveler named Simon to bear the cross for Jesus.  And they marched through town to Mt. Calvary, also known as the Place of a Skull.  It is at 9am that they pound the nails through His flesh, mounting His body to the cross, and lifting Him upright for all to see.

But Jesus wasn’t crucified alone.  All four gospel accounts reveal to us that two others were crucified with Him, one on His right, and one on His left.  It’s an interesting parallel to an earlier event.  The criminals may not have wanted to be at Christ’s right hand and his left, but who did?  James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They asked Jesus if those places of honor could be theirs.  It is perfectly fitting that the honor of being at Christ’s right and left when He is lifted up is granted to those who have earned the death sentence for their crimes.  For that is us, that is our punishment, that Jesus took to that cross.

While that is all we can learn of these two men from John, Matthew and Mark both share that the criminals together reviled Jesus.  Together they mocked Him.  But even more noteworthy is what both Matthew and Mark call these two men: lhsthj (lay-stace). In English, we translate it robber.  You know these men as thieves.  But the word is stronger than that.  Luke uses it the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  The lhsthj are the ones who beat the man, both robbing him and leaving him for dead.

And in John’s gospel account, Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd.  All others are thieves and robbers, that is lhsthj, seeking to steal and kill and destroy.  And finally, we see the word just one more time in the New Testament.  And it is on this very same day.  Earlier in the morning, gathered before Pilate, in honor of their high holy days of Passover, he offers to release to them one of the Jewish men being kept in his prison.  They can have Jesus, or they can have……Barabbas.  An insurrectionist guilty of murder.  Or, as John calls him, a lhsthj.

From everything else we see in Scripture, these two men hanging at the sides of Jesus are no mere thieves, but guilty of harsher crimes than pilfering.  And they have received the most excruciating death the Romans had to offer.  A death that fixated on embarrassment and humiliation.  Not only did it mark them as examples, encouraging the rest of the people to not follow in their footsteps, it was a terrible mark of shame upon their whole family.  All who entered Jerusalem, and all who left it, passed by this mount of crosses.

And the kind of death that it was!  It always astounds me to hear all the conversations that these three criminals engaged in.  The reviling, the giving away of a mother to another.  The traditional “seven words of the cross.”  The rebuke.  The request.  The prayer.  Crucifixion was death by asphyxiation, you literally were suffocating to death.  As you hang there leaning forward, your lungs struggle, grasping for air.  And so you’d use your legs, pushing up against the cross, allowing your lungs the ability to expand and draw in another breath.  Until your legs grew too tired, or the Romans grew too bored and broke them.  At that point, death would come quickly.  And yet these three talked!

Now, most criminals we can imagine downplay their crimes.  They seek to justify themselves, to cast their actions in a better light.  “It was for the good of everyone.”  “I did it so my family could survive.”  And we are no different.  “It was just a white lie, it didn’t hurt anyone.  I was only trying to protect their feelings.”  “It’s my body, my choice.”

Notice what I did there?  It’s you and me who deserve to be hanging there on that cross.  We are the ones who have sinned.  We are the ones who have transgressed the law of God.  We are the ones who’ve turned our backs on Him to live as we please.  And we constantly try to justify it.  But it doesn’t matter how small your sin is.  Even the smallest of sins in our eyes is precisely what nailed Jesus to the cross.

And yet, here the attempts to self-justify disappear.  Something happens.  Somewhere between Matthew’s note that both men taunted Jesus, and this new moment on the cross, one of the two men, a lhsthj, repents.  The Spirit grants him faith!  He rebukes the other criminal for mocking Jesus.  He rightly confesses his sin and that he has earned this punishment.  But after hearing all that he has heard, and seeing all that he has seen, he is convinced, he believes that Jesus truly can save him.  That Jesus truly is who He says He is.  That Jesus has a kingdom that’s not of this world.

And so he makes his final request.  We’ve been singing these words over and over again throughout the season of Lent: “Jesus remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.”  What a simple and profound statement of faith!  And Jesus hears it, and responds: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Again, the pain and the agony to speak even those words while suffocating.  And yet, what great comfort they must have been to the ears of a lhsthj.  As he hung there awaiting death, Jesus promised him life.

This is our request.  As we hang here, broken in this world, “Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.”  We repent of our sins.  We confess them before the Lord Himself.  We cling to His very promises, that in this act of sacrifice, this giving up of His own life becomes life-giving to us.  That through the blood that pours from His wounds, all our sins, and all our attempts to justify them, are washed away.  This is His promise to you.  You bring Him your sins, and He gives you His own life.

There they hung together, for a little while longer, in the midst of a thick darkness that raged upon the land from noon to 3pm.  Until that moment when Christ drew His last breath, and the earth shook, the tombs burst open, and the temple curtain tore in two from top to bottom, leaving the soldiers dumbfounded, and proclaiming, “Surely this Man was the Son of God!”

It was nearing the end of the day, being late in the afternoon, and the Jews claimed it was against their law for people to remain on the cross during the Sabbath.  So Pilate ordered their legs to be broken.  And the other two men died shortly thereafter.  But believing Jesus was already dead, they spared His legs, and instead pierced a spear into His side, and from it poured out His blood mixed with water.

At that time, two Pharisees, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, requested to take down the body of Jesus and give Him a burial, even offering up Joseph’s own tomb.  The work is done.  The Romans’ work of execution, the Jews’ work of ridding themselves of this Messiah, the Messiah’s work of forgiveness of sins and victory over sin and the devil, and Joseph and Nicodemus’ work of burial.  All the work is done, just in time for the Sabbath!

A couple weeks ago, I preached on how you can make use of hymns as a way to have devotions in your own home.  And I called both the Psalms and our own hymnals goldmines of theology.  Now, as you prepare to go out today, I want to share with you the words from one of those hymns.  Take the time to hear these words, to reflect on what Christ has done for you.  Verses 3, 4, 5, and 7 of hymn 453 “Upon the Cross Extended”:

3 Who is it, Lord, that bruised You?
Who has so sore abused You
And caused You all Your woe?
We all must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression
While You no ways of evil know.

4 I caused Your grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which You soul is cumbered,
Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.

5 Your soul in griefs unbounded,
Your head with thorns surrounded,
You died to ransom me.
The cross for me enduring,
The crown for me securing,
You healed my wounds and set me free.

7 Your cross I place before me;
Its saving pow’r restore me,
Sustain me in the test.
It will, when life is ending,
Be guiding and attending
My way to Your eternal rest.

Remember Steadfast Love April 10, 2019

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Psalm 98(:3)

Lenten Midweek 6

April 10, 2019

 

Focus:  God has won for us salvation!

Function:  That the hearers remember the steadfast love of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Remember Steadfast Love

 

It is my hope that tonight’s sermon is an encouragement to you.  That it is edifying, that it builds you up and encourages you in your faith.  I am going to share with you a way to do a devotion, whether it’s together with your family, or friends, it can be intergenerational, or done by yourself.

Many of you are aware that the Psalms are the Old Testament’s hymnal.  That for some thousand or more years, the Psalms were the hymns of the Church.  We sang these, we memorized them, we used them to praise God for all His benefits to us!  And, just like we do with our hymns today, they knew their hymns by the first line of the hymn.  So tonight, we are going to study the ancient hymn, “Oh Sing to Yahweh a New Song,” known to you as Psalm 98.

I would imagine, you can think of a catchy tune that gets stuck in your head, and you even sometimes find yourself singing.  Yet, when you actually stop and consider the words, you realize that the song just isn’t as good as it sounds, and maybe it’s not worth anything at all.

So, whether it’s from our hymnal, the Psalms, or a song on the radio, it’s helpful to break a song down, to look at the lyrics, the words that we actually say and confess, even if we don’t always realize just what it is we’re saying and confessing.  But if it’s a Christian song of some kind, going through the song verse by verse and really studying it can be of great benefit.

So tonight, we start at the top, with the first verse of our hymn.

Oh sing to Yahweh a new song, for He has done marvelous things!  His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.

 

This is that new song!  We are joining together in singing a hymn that was once new, never before heard, penned by a man of God for the use of the Church for thousands of years to come!  We sing a new song to Yahweh precisely because He has done marvelous things. By His actions, He has earned our everlasting praise, that we would lift Him up before our own hearts, and also in the presence of our children and our neighbors that they, too, may know what He has done for them.

And this verse also declares just what it is that God did for us, for me, for you.  His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.  As I stand up here now, with my arm stretched out, fist clenched, how does our mind start to finish the picture?  Pause.  Add a helmet to my head, a sword in my outstretched hand, and the pulpit suddenly becomes like a chariot.

This is a military image.  Intentionally.  God wants us to know, to see, that He has won the fight for us.  A war against our sin and against the prince of darkness who had hoped to overthrow this kingdom.  Yahweh’s right hand has waged war.  That phrase is also intentional.  Who is seated today at the right hand of God the Father today? Pause. Jesus!  Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of donkey to wage war against our sin.  To wage war against death and the devil for us.  In some ways, this kind of Psalm helps us understand the confusion of those Jewish peoples, awaiting a military commander as their savior.

Yahweh has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.

 

Just like in verse one, who does all the work?  Who is the actor on all of these verbs?  Who is the possessor of all the nouns? God, God, and God!  The Father took His plan of salvation, and He revealed it to you.  This is what Holy Week is all about.  As we prepare for that next week, the journey of Christ that leads to a crucifixion, the perfect Son of God, lifted up on the cross for all to see.  Salvation is yours in Jesus Christ.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this past week trying to think through just what value the Gospel has apart from the Law.  I encourage you to think of it this week, again, as we go through Holy Week together, ponder this: many of us know people who see no need for a Savior.  They’ll say things like, “My life is great!  What do I need saving from?”  Of what use to them is the good news?  What will saying, “Jesus loved you so much that He died for you,” what will saying that mean to them?  I believe the answer is that without the sting of the Law, showing us our sin, we have no need for the remedy of the Gospel, for the salvation of Jesus.

This is what Jesus was inviting people into.  Not the salvation they thought they needed.  Not the deliverance from oppression and victimhood at the hands of a cruel government that failed to listen to the people placed in its care.  And I’m talking about Rome.  Instead, as we saw in the sermon on Luke 13 a few weeks ago, Jesus turned their lust social justice on its head, saying that unless they repented, they too were going to perish.

As you consider inviting a neighbor to come to Holy Week services with you, this is also what you’re inviting them into.  Turning the cries of oppression and social justice, the salvation that they think is needed, turning these things around.  As Jesus did, we are inviting them to see just how deep their sin runs, and that salvation truly lies in Christ alone.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

 

This third verse is meant to be the basis of the sermon today, in our series of remembering.  Today, our theme is that we would remember the steadfast love of God.  And yet, as wonderful as this verse is, we don’t even know how to translate it.  These two adjectives, “steadfast love” and “faithfulness,” are so elusive.  It’s the חֶסֶד of God (Hesed: heh-said).  It’s the אֱמוּנָה of God (emunah: eh-moon-ah).  These words are so similar, so close together in meaning.  You could rightly translate them both as faithfulness.  God’s חֶסֶד, is His obligation to the community.  He made promises.  And He will keep them.  This word depicts both loyalty and faithfulness.  That when you are despairing of life itself, whether that’s because of your sin or the suffering you’re struggling to endure, you can trust in God.  He has promised you salvation, and has won it for you in His own blood.  He will keep His promise, you have life in His name!

And God’s אֱמוּנָה is His steadiness, it’s His reliability.  That dependable nature.  You know you can trust Him.  You know you can count on Him.  That when you need Him, He’s there.  When you’re stuck in your sins, you can count on the very promise of God that you are forgiven, not by your own merit or work, but by His own righteous right hand.

Now, that we would need a song to tell us to remember these things is almost laughable!  I mean, this is what our faith is.  We trust in Christ, we cling to His promises.  And that’s precisely what this psalmist is calling us to remember.  We sing hymn lyrics like these to always keep the promises of God right there before us, an always present reminder of who God is and what He has done for us.

Make a joyful noise to Yahweh, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

 

And so we sing!  A joyful noise doesn’t require a well-trained voice.  My favorite joyful noise that I hear in this church are the littlest voices that are so out of sync with us as we all pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  It’s joyous to know that our children are learning to pray to God for their salvation.  That’s beautiful, perhaps even more so, because it’s out of sync!

It’s like the art that a child gives to their parents.  Another person likely won’t value it at all, but the parent does, because of the relationship of a father to a son, or a mother to a daughter.  It gives a piece of paper value.  So is your voice before the Lord.  He created you, He gave you that voice.  And He delights in hearing it!

Sing praises to Yahweh with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!

With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, Yahweh!

 

These verses simply echo the refrain, that we sing praises to the Lord!  Because of His great and marvelous works, the salvation He accomplished for us in His own Son, we remember, we proclaim Him with our lips.  And to add instruments to that is a good thing. Whether it’s a harp or lyre, a horn or cymbal, an organ or guitar, we praise the Lord with the works of our hands.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!  Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together

 

The ocean and all the creatures that live in it.  The land and all the creatures that dwell upon it.  The rivers and streams and all the fish and other little swarming creatures that fill them.  The hills and mountains and all the animals that climb them.  Let everything that has breath…pause…praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)

This is a profound thing to think on as well.  The work of God that won for us salvation benefits not just man, but the fullness of God’s creation.  We see this reiterated in Romans 8 by Paul, as he wrote: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  You and I were created to care for this creation.  And so, even creation rejoices at the gift of the Savior, because Jesus restores us, the caretakers.  We get to care for God’s creation once again.

before Yahweh, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

 

And the hymn ends by praising God as judge.  He judges the world by His own righteousness.  And we know that that righteousness is Jesus Christ, the righteous One!  God judges the world through the blood of His Son, seeing not our sin, but instead, the forgiveness accomplished for us by His own righteous right hand.

This is a wonderful way to do a devotion, to just read through a song or a hymn that you enjoy singing.  To see how the words themselves point you to who Christ is and what He has done for you!  You don’t even need to go this deep.  If your study gets you even a third of this, it’s a great benefit!  Our hymnal is a gold mine.  The hymnal of these earliest Christians is a gold mine.  As we hear the words, as we memorize the words to song, as they proceed from our lips, we remember the steadfast love of God.  We remember that He is faithful.  We remember that He has saved us by His own righteous right hand.

 

 

Pride and Perfection April 7, 2019

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Philippians 3:4b-14

Proper 22

October 5, 2014 (first preached)

Fifth Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019 (preached to a new congregation)

 

Focus:  God is our source of life and strength.

Function:  That the hearers humble themselves to the point of serving.

Structure: This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

Pride and Perfection

 

Let’s begin with a question.  I want you to take a few moments to think of some of the things in your life that you’re proud of.

Perhaps you take pride in your achievements, your job, your home, the things you’ve worked hard for.  And maybe that pride isn’t about stuff.  You’re proud of what you’ve made of yourself.  Maybe that hard work is what you’ve poured into raising a family.  You’re proud of who your little ones have become.  You’re proud to say you’re a Lutheran or a Christian.  You’re proud of any number of things.  Tuck those in the back of your mind for a few minutes.

It’s in our upbringing, it’s in the way we were raised.  There’s a special place in our heart for our own independence, our own ability to stand on our own two feet.  We’ve been taught that if you want something, you have to go and get it for yourself.  We’ve been taught that we can’t count on others to help us, we have to be able to fend for ourselves.

These ideas are so deeply rooted in our society.  They’re deeply connected to who we are.  They’re deeply connected to our dreams and our desires.  This could never be clearer than looking at our stories.  Who among us doesn’t love a feel good story about someone who didn’t have a chance, who was down and out, but then picked themselves up by the bootstraps and fought and clawed their way to a better place?  How many of our books, songs, and movies have that for a theme?  That’s part of the superhero craze.  We look up to them, we enjoy the stories, in part because it speaks to our heartfelt need for independence.  They’re doing what we wish we could do.  No matter how many times they get knocked down, they always get back up again.  They always keep fighting.

That’s where our text begins with the Apostle Paul.  As we turn to Philippians chapter three, we find Paul talking about his ability to do it on his own.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 

Here we find the great Apostle Paul rattling off his greatness.  Listing the ways in which he could be proud.  Eighth day circumcision means he’s followed the law from the beginning.  From that point in his life, he was part of God’s covenant, part of God’s people.

More than that, he came from the tribe of Benjamin.  The twelve tribes of Israel consisted of Jacob’s twelve sons.  By his favorite wife, Jacob had Joseph and Benjamin.  Because one of his sons Levi was given a different role as priest, he didn’t get a tribe.  So one more had to be added to keep the number at twelve.  To do that, Joseph’s descendants were split in two.  His two sons Ephraim and Manasseh both got tribes.  Thus, Benjamin was the favorite remaining child to have his own tribe.  And that’s where Paul comes from.

And as for keeping the law, of course!  Paul was a Pharisee.  These men were so strict about keeping God’s law they even made up more laws to follow.  And Paul was so ardent about his faith, he was willing to persecute those he thought were mocking God’s name.  Blameless, Paul would call himself.

This is his checklist; here he lists his worthiness before God.  If anyone can get in own his own merit, on his own two feet, it’s Paul.  But listen to what he has to say about his pride, about his keeping of the law, about the things he’s accomplished for himself:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  All of this stuff, all of my pride, all of my boasting amounts to nothing.  Apart from Christ, I am nothing.  I have nothing.  I can achieve nothing.

When I looked up the word “pride” on dictionary.com, there was only one antonym listed, only one opposite.  Humility.  And that’s what this whole letter is about.  That’s what Paul’s entire letter to the church in Philippi focuses on as its theme.  Pride vs. humility.

Pride, historically, has been considered one of man’s worst traits.  And since we’re already on the internet, what would this sermon be without a reference to Wikipedia?  In its entry on the seven deadly sins, here’s what it has to say:

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).”

 

Paul certainly saw it this way.  In his writings, Paul makes pride and boasting the same.  He makes pride and self-centeredness the same.  And this idea of pride being a negative trait actually has its roots in God’s Word.  The words “pride” and “proud” show up 87 times in the Bible.  Only six of those are positive.  The rest talk about us separating ourselves from God, of pride being our downfall, or of God’s pending destruction of the prideful.

Only six times is pride used in a good way.  And they’re the same.  Just like Paul says about boasting, the only good that comes from pride is when it’s rooted in Christ.  He’s proud that the gospel has created faith in the people of Philippi.  He’s proud that the Spirit has used him to communicate Christ’s love.

For several millennia in both church and world history, pride was considered a vice, the downfall of man.  It was seen as us separating ourselves from God.  But in America today, you hear the word just about anywhere you go.  We’re proud of our accomplishments, we’re proud of our athletes, we’re proud of our grades, we’re proud of just about everything.  And as the one song says, we’re even proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.

We like being able to say we did it ourselves.  We’ve done this great thing.  We’re independent.  We don’t need anyone’s help.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Everything we’ve done amounts to nothing.  If you work hard and amass a bunch of stuff, Solomon will make you depressed, because he’ll tell you in Ecclesiastes that’s it all meaningless and you can’t take it with you.  And that’s life, apart from Christ.

We’re sinners, we’ve broken the law.  We’ve failed to achieve perfection in our lives.  But that’s where Christ comes in.  He’s the ultimate example of what Paul is trying to say.  In fact, just a chapter earlier, Paul uses Christ as the ultimate example.  He was perfect.  He could stand on His own two feet.  He could be proud of His own accomplishments.  He could have looked out for only Himself.  But He did just the opposite.  He gave of Himself, He sacrificed of Himself, He lowered Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Christ humbled Himself and became a servant, our servant.  To show us the way.

Another powerful illustration of the vast difference between pride and humility is marriage.  If you focus only on yourself, if you continue to live your life taking care of #1, marriage will be a painful and angry place.  That’s not how it was designed.  If instead, you put your spouse first, their needs before your own.  If instead, you both cast off your pride and serve the other, making yourself into a servant, sure, you’ll still have bumps along the way as sinners, but you will also be blessed to experience the bliss of life together.  And you might just be blessed enough to catch a glimpse of our relationship with God.

These things are why Paul concludes our text today by saying “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  The bad of our past is gone.  Forgotten.  Forgiven.  And now instead, we can look around us and see what God sees.  We can look around us and see people, people whom He loves.  Every person matters.

So maybe it’s time to strike pride and proud from our vocabulary.  Maybe it’s time to stop wanting to live on our own and stand on our own.  Maybe it’s time to realize that we can’t do this ourselves.  Maybe it’s time to realize that Christ has already done it for us.   Maybe it’s time to open our eyes and see Him standing at our side, giving us the strength to go another day.  Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on each other, as Christ did for us.

 

We are Martyrs, Witnessing with God’s Power April 1, 2019

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Acts 7:51-60

Lutheran High School Kansas City Chapel

April 1, 2019

 

Focus:  God calls us to be His witnesses.

Function:  That the hearers boldly proclaim Christ in their vocations.

Structure:  .

 

We are Martyrs, Witnessing with God’s Power

 

We’ve read the text.  We’ve even seen it acted out.  So, let’s dig a little deeper into the details.  What do we know about this man named Stephen?

  • He is a follower of Christ,
  • one of the seven table servers in Acts 6,
  • was performing miracles,
  • was sharing the faith,
  • had a face like an angel,
  • name is Greek for “crown.”

 

In Acts 6, for the crime of sharing the truth of Jesus in Jerusalem, Stephen is arrested and dragged off before the Jewish ruling council.  And as the charges are levied against him, the high priest gives him the chance to speak.

Acts 7 then is the fullness of that hearing.  It is Stephen both giving his defense, but primarily preaching one final time.  Sharing his faith, that Jesus is the fulfillment of their Old Testament Scriptures.

He walks them through it.  Genesis and Exodus.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses.  He takes them through the wilderness, sharing with them the place of God’s dwelling in the midst of His people, the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting.  Then he skips forward, to David, to Solomon, to the Temple, revered by the Jews for generations as God’s house.

But then he shares from the prophet Isaiah, that God’s house isn’t a building, not made with bricks by the hands of men.  God’s house, His temple, His dwelling place is us.  In faith, the Holy Spirit is in us.  Christ is in us.  We are the very temple of God.

And so he calls them stiff-necked, stubborn, uncircumcised, resisting the Holy Spirit.  He calls them faithless.  They’re pagans, idolaters.  They have rejected God, they have rejected His Word, they have rejected His Spirit, by killing the Righteous One, by slaying His Son Jesus.

And for daring to speak these words, Stephen becomes the first martyr of the movement known as the Way, later named Christianity as an insult to those who would follow Christ.  Stephen was killed on account of his faith, for witnessing his faith.

Now there is an extremely significant Greek word here.  In Greek, the word that we translate witness, is “marturia,”martyr.  This is the person who has witnessed something, seen it with their eyes, heard it with their ears, believes it to be true.  This witness is willing to testify, to stake their reputation on their word, to stake their wealth on their witness, even their very life.

This is the calling that we see Jesus give to His disciples: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

My “marturej,” My martyrs.  My witnesses.  Witnesses of what?  Pause.  Jesus is calling all who would follow Him to boldly stake their reputations, their wealth, and even their lives on the Gospel, that He is God, crucified for us, risen for us.  And that in Him, we have life that never ends.

This is what Stephen was doing.  The one who was called and set aside specifically for the task of making sure that the widows had bread to eat each day, now suddenly being stoned to death for speaking of Christ.  And yet, even in the midst of this, all that’s happening to him, these are the final, bold, last words of Stephen: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  He prays on their behalf.  In his last breath, he prays to God for their forgiveness.

Does this remind you of anyone?  Pause. We were close with the Gospel reading today, just a few verses earlier, in Luke 23:33-34 we read:

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

 

Stephen is simply following Christ, doing what Christ did, sharing forgiveness with those around him.

In Acts 6, Stephen is described as being “full of grace and power.”  Is that what this looks like to you?  It’s certainly not a display of power as the world thinks of power.  Stephen looks weak as he is at the mercy of any number of attackers.  He looks weak as he is dragged out of the city like garbage to the curb, put to death like a sick animal, unable to shield himself from their blows.

The power of God is not the same as the power of men.  True power comes from the very Word of God Himself.  God’s power makes us bold to witness to Christ even in the face of suffering, persecution, and death.  That we would be willing to risk our reputation, our earthly goods, and our life, in hopes that our neighbor may to come to know Christ, and spend forever with us in God’s Paradise.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:16.

This is why Stephen is said to be full of grace and power.  Not the power of men, but the power of God, to boldly witness, to speak the truth in love.  Stephen called out these Jews for their sins, their idolatry, even the murder of God Himself.  And then, as they were killing him, he speaks words of forgiveness.  He prays to God for their forgiveness!

And standing right there, hearing all of this, observing all of this, becoming a witness of all of this, is Saul, the persecutor.  The one who would in a short time see a direct revelation of the risen Christ, and would become perhaps the greatest martyr, the boldest witness of all time: the Apostle Paul.

You are witnesses to the people around you.  It doesn’t matter what career you seek after.  You are Christ’s witnesses in all of your vocations, a living testimony to your family and friends, to your neighbors, and to your classmates and coworkers.  Empowered by the Word of God.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Empowered by Christ’s forgiveness.  Living witnesses, both by the way you live, and also by the words that you speak.

Now we do fail.  We fail to speak of Christ because we think it’s not necessary, or maybe someone else will do it.  We fail to witness fearing that we’ll say the wrong thing, fearing that we’ll offend someone, fearing causing an argument, fearing that we’ll lose a relationship with someone that we hold dear.

But we need not fear.  Because even the worst thing that this world can do to you, killing you as they did Stephen, is nothing to fear.  When we die, where do we go? To be with Christ in Paradise.  So for the Christian, for you, death isn’t a loss.  As Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Or in John’s words in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Stephen, whose very name means “crown” now dons the crown of life.  So, brothers and sisters in Christ, be martyrs, be witnesses, boldly speaking the truth in love to your neighbors.  Boldly proclaiming the Law and Gospel to your family.  Boldly pointing your friends to Christ.  Amen.

 

 

Remember the Covenant March 27, 2019

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Psalm 105:8

Lenten Midweek 4

March 27, 2019

 

Focus:  God remembers His covenant with Abram.

Function:  That the hearers put their hope in the God who keeps the covenant.

Structure:  .

 

Remember the Covenant

 

Our text for the sermon this evening is from Psalm 105:8: “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,”

 

There’s a bit of language there that the Old Testament Scriptures like to use.  Let me share with you a few examples:

  • And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. – Genesis 17:7
  • And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. – Genesis 17:9
  • God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. – Exodus 3:15
  • “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. – Exodus 12:14
  • And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” – Exodus 16:33
  • And so on, and so on.

 

We worship a God of order, not of chaos.  He’s very precise in the things that He does.  He has a plan, and He follows through.  And He often does something or institutes something for us that we are expected to remember from one generation to the next.  And how does that happen?  He even answers that for us!

  • You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ – Exodus 13:8
  • 14 And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. – Exodus 13:14

 

We remember the promises of God.  We remember the wondrous works of God.  We remember the words of God.  And we take each of these things and we teach them to our children after us.  And they in turn teach them to their children after them.  This is what it means to remember.  We live it, we share it.  This is how God designed for the faith to be passed down from one generation to the next.

But today we will be more specific.  We will focus solely on one of these things that we were supposed to remember.  I take you back, some 4100 years ago.  To Genesis 15.  There we see God cut a covenant with Abram, soon to be Abraham.  A covenant isn’t an agreement.  A covenant isn’t a promise.  A covenant isn’t a contract drafted by lawyers.  A covenant is an unbreakable pact made in blood.

In order to cut a covenant, the two parties involved would sacrifice some animals.  They would cut them in half, and then rearrange the pieces into two parallel lines, with the blood spilled out in between.  Together, the two parties would then walk through the blood.  The pact was now made.  Cut.  In place.  The two parties are bound together, one to the other.  And, what do you think happens if one of the two parties breaks the covenant?  Their blood must be shed.  To break the covenant that was cut in blood, the blood of the covenant-cutter must be spilled.

We see these types of blood covenants, suzerainty covenants as they were called, at least up into the middle ages.  In feudalism, this was often the way a king would deal with the lords that he entrusted to serve under him, managing pieces of his larger kingdom.

And so together God and Abram cut a covenant.  They make the sacrifice, they lay out the parts.  We even see Abram chasing off scavenger birds seeking an easy meal that day.  And then something unique, something extraordinary happens: תַרְדֵּמָ֖ה .  (Tear-dame-uh).  God puts Abram into a deep sleep.  It is the same deep sleep that God used on Adam when He took out a rib to make Eve.  It’s a supernatural sleep.  God-imposed.

And then, while Abram was out cold, God alone walked through the bloodshed.  God alone passed through the sacrifices.  He took upon Himself the full responsibility for the covenant.  A covenant whose terms were simple: “To your offspring I give this land.”

This covenant mirrors our faith.  It’s all about what God will do.  Abram only had to trust.  Trust that God would provide him a son in his old age.  Trust that God would make his descendants a great nation.  Trust that God would prosper them in a land of great bounty.

And yet he didn’t remember.  His wife didn’t remember.  And together they tried to come up with their own way of becoming a great nation, as Sarai gives her handmaiden Hagar to Abram as another wife, so that he may bear a son by her.  Together, they fail to trust, as Abram passes Sarai off as though she is his sister in the land of Gerar, fearing that her beauty will cost him his own life.  And we would be here for generations if we tried to list all the ways that Abraham’s descendants would fail to trust in God, would fail to remember the covenant.

We also fail to remember the covenant. We regularly forget that God even exists, as we take life into our own hands, trusting in ourselves, in our families, in our jobs, in our communities, and in our government to provide for us.  We fail to trust in God’s provisions when we work non-stop throughout the week, burning the candle at both ends each and every day.  We fail to trust in God’s faithfulness when we fill our schedules with so many things that we are distracted from the true purpose of this life.  We could go on and on for generations trying to list all our sins.

For all of this, we remember the punishment.  The covenant has been broken.  Now, blood must be shed.  But this is precisely what makes that covenant God cut with Abram so extraordinary.  Abram didn’t walk through the blood of the sacrifice.  Abram’s blood is not a valid payment for the broken covenant.

Only God can shed His blood to pay the price for our sin.  And that is precisely what He has done.  “For Yahweh your God is a merciful God.  He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that He swore to them.” – Deuteronomy 4:31.

God did not abandon us in our sin.  Despite our rejection of Him, our unwillingness to simply trust in Him above all things, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

Our God is a God of order and precision.  Jesus Christ came into this world with a very specific purpose in mind: to pay the blood price of the covenant that we failed to remember.  And some thirty years later, there He hung, blood pouring from the thorn marks in His forehead and eyes, blood oozing from the wounds that stripes that the leather whips left on His back, blood flowing from the spots where He was impaled with fastenings of iron.

And He looks up, and cries out, “It is finished.”  The punishment for our sin, for our failure, for our transgressing of the covenant of God has been paid in full.  There is no price still required of you.  Jesus has paid it in full.

This is the reminder Paul gives to the Corinthian church as he says, “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

“You are not your own.”  Paul calls us to remember that this life isn’t about us!  This life isn’t about what Steve wants to do.  This life isn’t about what Steve thinks is important.

“You were bought at a price.”  Paul calls us to remember that the blood of Christ is that price.  There’s no higher value that God could have placed on us.  Not a dollar, not $22 trillion, not the blood of a turtle dove or the blood of a thousand bulls.  The very blood of God Himself has paid for your sins in full.

“So glorify God in your body.”  Paul calls us to remember that in all that we do, we do it to point to Him.  We do it so that others around us may see what He has done for them.  This is the very purpose of life, which we so quickly and easily forget.  As Jesus instructs, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.  We have a liturgical calendar, we celebrate a Church year.  And three weeks from now, we will gather together on Maundy Thursday to remember this great bloodprice of Christ.  Because as Christ sheds His blood to forgive us of our sins, the Old Covenant is done away with.  In that cutting act of those Roman soldiers, spilling the blood of a new sacrifice, God Himself makes a new covenant between God and man.  And it sounds strikingly similar in its terms: “I will give you this land, this Paradise.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has promised you life with Him in Paradise forevermore.  Remember His covenant, His new covenant in the blood of Christ.  And trust in Him above all things.

Repenting in the Present Critical Time March 24, 2019

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Luke 13:1-9

Third Sunday in Lent

February 27, 2016 (first preached)

 

Third Sunday in Lent

March 24, 2019 (edited for preaching at a new congregation)

 

Focus:  God releases us from our pain and suffering through the same in His Son.

Function:  That the hearers examine the present/critical time.

Structure:  Juggling the context.

 

Repenting in the Present Critical Time

 

Admittedly, in some ways, I preached on this text last week.  So, you know, just go home and listen to that sermon on our website again to refresh your memory and we’ll call it good.  So we continue our service with the Prayers of the Day.  Fake walking away

No, really, we did.  In preaching on the later parts of Luke chapter 13, I had pointed to the beginning of Luke chapter 13 because of the difficulty of this subject, the difficulty of Christ’s words, “Repent or perish.”  We covered the topic of repentance, that it’s not a work that we do to earn our salvation, we can’t do that.  Rather, repentance is the gift of God, that He works faith in our hearts, and then forgives us of our sins.

And since repentance is a major theme of Lent, I want to continue our journey backwards today.  To look at, and fully understand, the beginning of chapter 13, we need to look at the end of chapter 12.  Since there aren’t any Bibles in the pews in front of you, you have permission to use the Bible app on your phone. Hopefully you’re seeing how this works.  Luke’s writing is one letter, one coherent work.  And context is king.

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

 

Now you don’t give me enough time on Sunday morning in a single service to cover this entire letter.  Nor could you.  So just take note that this is continuing a conversation, that “He also said to the crowds.”  Same place.  Same group.  He’s continuing His teaching.

And so verses 54-56.  You can look at the sky, you can see it change colors and you know what that means the weather will be hours from now, days from now.  You can judge the wind and the sky.  And yet, you’re not paying attention.  You’re not able to judge, to interpret the present time.  That is, My ministry right here in your midst.  You can’t even tell what’s going on.  What it means that the Christ has come.  What all the miracles and teaching points to.  You’re missing it.

For the second paragraph, I just need to let you know that the idea of a journey is an important theme in Luke’s gospel.  Christ’s ministry is depicted as a journey.  And here, He’s depicting us on a journey.  As your journeying from the cradle to the grave, from conception to the death, take note.  Look around you.  See whom you’ve harmed and wronged and fight for reconciliation.  Fight for forgiveness.  Otherwise, when the judge comes, he’ll throw you in prison.  And when the eternal Judge comes, that prison has no escape.

So this is a critical time.  You need to be able to look at the life of Christ, to see His inbreaking of the kingdom of God, that He’s on a journey to restore the world to the One who created it.  That all of His teaching, all of His miracles, are meant to redeem you on your journey.  And that is what we see in our text for today.

The first verse doesn’t mean much to us on the surface.  We’re not part of the culture, it’s not easy to understand.  “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”  Note the phrase, “present time.”  Same group of people as before, same crowd, same sermon.

So here we go, what on earth does that mean?  I even had to look it up.  What’s in the details?  One of our professors at Fort Wayne, Dr. Arthur Just, said the only time the lay people would have been sacrificing in the temple area was at Passover.  So here we are in the midst of the Passover celebration, and Pilate came and slaughtered some of the Galilean Jews, mixing their blood with the blood of the Passover lambs.

To paint a modern picture, thinking of the increasing divisiveness and hatred of the church in America, it would be like the government sending a SWAT team through those doors as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and opening fire, killing us, mixing our blood with the blood of Christ in the sacrament.  A Savior should be outraged.

And they were hoping to make Jesus angry, to stir up His emotions, to get Him to lash out at the Romans and Pilate in particular.  You want us to believe you’re the Messiah, okay, prove it.  Here’s the wickedness of Rome, save us!  That false idea of the Messiah being an earthly king was everywhere.

But as was often the case, Jesus didn’t respond the way they wanted.

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

 

His comparison most likely offended them.  Here, they’re angry with Rome, with Pilate, with the authorities.  But, Jesus talks about the sin of the ones who got killed!  Forget Rome, look at yourselves! They received the due punishment for their sins.  They received death.  Were they any worse than anyone else?  Jesus was a calling them to the greater picture, to the critical, present time that is part of their journey, His journey.  That the kingdom of God is at hand, that the ministry of Christ has shattered the reign of Satan, and we need to change our perspective.

The people pointed at martyrs.  Christ pointed to a natural disaster.  And He used the same grammar, the same sentence structure, and had the exact same response.  They’re the same.  In other words, Christ is pointing out the depths of our sin, the brokenness of creation, and that it ultimately leads to death for all mankind.

Pilate’s actions against the Galilean Jews shouldn’t be viewed as a specific judgment of God for specific sins from specific people.  It’s a judgment of all people, for all have sinned.  And so Christ’s call for repentance is for all people, that we would all repent, lest we all perish.  Our Christian response to suffering and death of any form should be “I deserve the same.  I’m no different than they were.”

When they pointed to martyrs and to Rome, they were thinking too small.  Rome wasn’t the enemy.  Sin is.  Death is.  We are.  And Christ hasn’t come to win a little battle in human history.  He’s come to transform our journey from one of death, to one of life.  Christ has come to conquer sin, death, and hell for us.  And so after we think “I deserve the same. I’m no different than they were,” we should follow that thought with, “praise the Lord that Jesus died in my place, that Jesus forgives my sins so that I can live.”

And our final piece of the text, today at least, is another parable.  But it fits right in, it was said at the same time.

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

This is the journey, our journey.  The Father, the judge of the universe, looks down and doesn’t see repentance, He doesn’t see fruit.  And so He threatens to bring about judgment, which wouldn’t end well for us.  But Christ intercedes, He buys us a little more time.  Creation has a little while longer until the last day.  You and I and everyone else have a little more time in this present, critical age.  And that’s good news!  That there’s still time for those who don’t know Christ, for those who’ve rejected Christ, for those who are trapped in their sin, there’s still time for the good news to be shared, to be preached, to be heard.  There’s still time for repentance, and that’s good news.

This isn’t about the sins of Israel, the violence of Rome, or the greed of America.  It’s not about the sins of one man and the punishment he deserves for it.  Christ is inviting us to understand the mercy of God, that through this parable we would see every day as a gift, a gift to us, a gift to our family, a gift to our community.  And in this critical present time, Jesus calls us to repent or perish. Because the day is coming when that time runs out.

He calls us to know that in the midst of our own journey filled with sin, suffering, and death, He has finished His journey.  As the critical time draws to a close, we remember, we rejoice in the sacrifice of Christ, in His body and blood shed for us upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  A gift for everyone.  A gift of comfort and hope.  We are called to the foot of the cross, that in our repentance the suffering Christian meets the suffering Savior, and that’s good news.

Remember Wondrous Works March 13, 2019

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Psalm 111:4

Lenten Midweek 2

March 13, 2019

Focus:  God causes His wondrous works to be remembered today.

Function:  That the hearers believe He is still working wonders today.

Structure: “A Lent to Remember” Lenten series sermon outline.

 

Remember Wondrous Works

 

Our sermon text today is from Psalm 111:4 – “He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; Yahweh is gracious and merciful.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I still remember a few falls ago, in my time in Minnesota, it was Daylight Savings Time again.  Spring forward; fall back.  Well, one of the older members didn’t remember.  And so as I was at church early preparing for services as normal, in walks Frances at 6:30 in the morning.  Early church starts at 8:00am.  When I informed her of this, she shrugged it off and spent that time reading God’s Word in her pew.

We have ways of remembering things.  Sometimes it’s the task ahead, like the little phrase spring forward, fall back.  Other times, it’s a way to recall something that has happened before.  But, like the story of Frances, we don’t always remember.

Our God intentionally uses the recalling of history to bring about faith in His creation.  He constantly calls His creatures to remember the wondrous works He has done for them.

It’s so easy to look at God’s Word for this.  In the Garden of Eden, God crafts Eve out of a single rib, and brings her to Adam as His bride.  He has fully formed the world around them.  And yet, when the devil brings his temptation before them, they seem to have forgotten God’s wondrous work of creation.

After suffering in Egypt for 400 years, God works a series of ten miracles, stunning displays of His power and His authority over His creation.  It is through this manipulation of insects, light, hail, blood, and even life itself, that the Egyptian Pharaoh finally caves and lets God’s people go free.

And yet, no sooner than they’d left Egypt, the Israelites forget the wondrous works of God that they’d just seen, and start complaining about what they think they lack.  They forget the God who has so wondrously and miraculously saved them!

Then there’s their descendants, the people who got to enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  They didn’t earn it.  They didn’t even fight for it.  They watched the wondrous work of God, as He drove out their enemies from before them.  And yet, they so continuously and regularly forget God, we get the book of Judges, a cycle of sin, oppression, deliverance, and rest that occurs again and again and again for generations.

Rinse, wash, repeat.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

We forget the wondrous works of God in our own lives.  Even to the point where some of you are thinking to yourself right now that you’ve never seen a miracle of God in your lifetime.  Let me handle that two different ways:

First, so what?  What’s it matter if you’ve seen a miracle or not?  We put too much stock in ourselves.  It’s prideful to think that if we just saw a miracle, then we’d really believe.  It would be no trouble to remember God and what He’s done for us, if only we could see it.

How’d that work for Adam and Eve?  The Israelites that fled Egypt?  Their descendants for generations after them?  How’d that work for the disciples after all the miracles of Jesus they saw?  I mean, where were they to be found on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and very early on Easter morning?  Yet Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).

But second, you have witnessed miracles in your lifetime.  Martin Luther once penned,

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

 

You, a broken and dead sinner, who had no hope of anything in this life or the life beyond it.  Even you have been set free.  The wondrous work of God, through His Holy Spirit, has created faith in you.  You heard the Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ.  And yet, the dead cannot raise the dead.  Dead in your sins, you couldn’t believe on your own.  God has done even this for you.  He has raised you to new life, made you a new creation, created faith in you.  And look around.  He’s done the same wondrous, miraculous work for each of them, too!

And He’s not done!  He continues to do wondrous works.  He continues to promise wondrous works.  Creation is a foreshadowing, a preview of the new heaven and the new earth that is to come.  The Promised Land is a foreshadowing, a preview of the new heaven and the new earth that will be our home with Jesus forevermore.

And the Exodus was a foreshadowing, a preview of the most wondrous work of God known to man.  The disciples got to see it.  It wasn’t what they expected.  They had been looking for a Messiah that would bring victory, triumph, and glory.  They were looking for wondrous works of their own description, like the mighty deeds of men.  Instead, they got a bloody tree.  Instead, they got the very Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, willing to lay down His own life, in order that they might have life.  The cross of Christ is a wondrous work indeed!

But remembering in God’s Word isn’t just thinking about fond memories.  Remembering in God’s Word brings the past into the present.  Think about that for a second.  The cross moment in history was nearly two thousand years ago.  How does God bring the wondrous work of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ into the present for you?  The means of grace!

He does it through means! Through more wondrous works.  By His means of grace, God brings the forgiveness of Christ to you.  Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus!  In John’s gospel account, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.”  (John 5:24)  Faith comes through hearing.  Through God’s Word, read, preached, and proclaimed in your hearing, the Holy Spirit creates faith.  He brings dead sinners to the foot of the cross where they hear Christ’s beautiful words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Your sins are forgiven!  God’s wondrous work on the cross is conveyed to you through God’s wondrous Word.

In 1 Corinthians 11:26, we see Paul make this connection.  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  That past event of the Last Supper is present even now.  The Lord’s Supper is a wondrous work of God, a means of grace in your life.  In this meal, the Holy Spirit is granting you forgiveness, strength, and encouragement, each and every time you receive Christ’s body and blood. God’s wondrous work on the cross is conveyed to you through God’s wondrous Supper.

And in 1 Peter 3:20-21, Peter tells us the past, remembering the time of Noah, where the world was wiped out in a global flood.  And so he tells us that

because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Baptism is an ongoing gift of the Spirit, as He has created faith in you.  It is a regeneration, a renewal, a being made into a new creature.  You have new life every day.  God’s wondrous work on the cross is conveyed to you through God’s wondrous washing.

These are some of the wondrous works that we see.  Specifically, these are the wondrous works of God, where we see Him attach His wondrous Word and His promises to something visible, something tangible for us to see, to feel, to taste, to hear.

And there’s more!  In the explanation of the 1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

 

This doesn’t qualify as a miracle.  This is the way God originally designed His creation to function.  But nevertheless, it’s still a wondrous work.  Just think of all the detail, all the thought, all the care, all the work that God put into making you.  From the intricacies of your DNA, your eyes, ears, and all your members.  And not just you!  God has done this wondrous work for your neighbor!  God has even done this wondrous work for all the geese who’ve made St. Matthew their home this winter!

Here’s some more to think about: if we saw someone miraculously healed, where the doctors had no explanation, we’d call that a wondrous work of God.  So, why not God’s preserving your health right now?  Giving you the ability to draw breath, sustaining your life for yet another day?

If we were rescued inexplicably from some kind of danger, we may credit God, saying He’d done a wondrous work by sending a guardian angel to care for us.  Why not say that same thing even now?  Why not call it a wondrous work that God is protecting you from harm even now?

And of course, we can’t forget that final promise of a wondrous work.  On the Last Day, when the Father chooses to send His Son back into this creation, to come again, all the dead will be raised.  All who have fallen will be raised again!  And for all who believe in Jesus Christ, who trust in His wondrous works, we will get to see one more wondrous work: the new heaven and the new earth that He is preparing for us even now.  And who knows how many more wondrous works we will see when we’re there with Him in His Paradise.

God is still at work.  Right here.  Right now.  He is at work through His wondrous Word and Sacraments.  He is at work as He continues to create and preserve life in His creation.  And, He is at work as He continues to restore His creation back to Himself.

What wondrous works has God recently done in your life and in the life of your family?  I can, and I will gladly tell you what He’s done for mine!  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Loving Your Enemies February 24, 2019

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Luke 6:27-38

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

February 24, 2019

 

Focus:  God is merciful and kind to us ungrateful and evil people.

Function:  That the hearers love their enemies.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Loving Your Enemies

 

The Gospel readings are always wonderful, but wasn’t today’s especially great?  Let me read it for you again!

“But I say to you who hear, hate your enemies, do evil things to those who hate you, swear at those who curse you, report those who abuse you.  To one who strikes you on the cheek, punch them in return, and from one who takes away your cloak, sue them.  Lend with interest to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods, sue them, too!  See just how much you can get away with before your neighbor notices!”

Our seminary professors who teach us how to preach beg us not to use sarcasm in a sermon.  You really just don’t know if someone’s going to miss it, and walk away with the wrong impression of God’s Word.  I’m making an exception to that today.  And I hope you all realized that what I just read was sarcasm, not a legit quoting of Jesus.

I am forever thankful that Jesus didn’t say those words, instead that He instructs us to do good to others, even when they’ve wronged us.  But those words that I just spoke, those words are very things that we do.  Let’s unpack them.  Feel free to keep your text handy.

Jesus instructs us to love our enemies.  This is excruciatingly difficult.  I’m not sure there’s any one here today that can say that they’re good at it.  This isn’t what our culture teaches.  We live in a place where it’s okay to be intolerant, to hate someone else, if you think they’re guilty of hate first.  And as Christians, we’re not above that.  How many of you hate the other political party?  How many of you hate the one guilty of murder, of those born or unborn, or hate someone guilty of another heinous crime?  How many of you have hated the people and the armies that we have warred with in the last few generations?

Jesus’ sermon could’ve stopped there.  Law, preached.  We can’t do it.  And yet He continues on.  Do good to those who hate you.  Good, not evil.  Christians in the midst of a cultural war right now are struggling with this one greatly.  Our culture despises God and His Word.  An absolute truth?  To the world, that’s an absolute joke.  And so as a Christian, you’re a bigoted fool.  You use your religion to hide behind your hatred.  The world would be better off without you.  And yet, Jesus tells us to love the people who view us that way.  To do good things to them, and treat them kindly, and with respect.  Again, sermon over, hammer of the Law dropped.

Bless those who curse you.  It’s so much easier to lob insults back.  Pray for those who abuse you.  It’s so much easier to get revenge or to look for grounds to defend ourselves.  To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.  It’s so much easier to fight back, to lash out.  And from the one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.  When someone steals from us, our things or our dignity, it’s so much easier to cry victim or foul or oppression.  Jesus says let them have it, and not in the violent way.  Literally, give them even more of what you have.

Give to everyone who begs from you.  I can’t imagine there’s a person here who hasn’t struggled with the idea of how to help beggars.  Do I give to them?  Maybe they don’t really need it.  Maybe it’s just a con, a way to not work.  Maybe they’ll use it to buy drugs, beer, or cigarettes.  How can I know?  How can I trust them?  Jesus answers that simply: give.

And from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  If someone steals from you, it’s just stuff, let it go.  Let them have it.  God will provide and care for you regardless.  If someone borrows something, and they forget, let them have it.  It’s just stuff, let it go.  There’s no place for lawsuits in the Church.  Moth and rust destroy anyway.  Let it go.

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.  Doesn’t matter how your neighbor treats you, you have been called, as a Christian, as a child of God, to treat them the way you wish they would treat you.  The old golden rule is actually a quote of Jesus.  And it’s a good summary statement of everything we just talked about.  Don’t seek revenge, don’t sue, don’t cause harm.  Let it go.  Love, respect, bless, pray, offer, give, do.

Doing all these things would certainly make a Christian sound like a pushover.  In Matthew’s gospel, it ties in perfectly, as Jesus says there in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  The meek, the pushovers, to them belongs the world.  God’s kingdom belongs to His people.

But, Jesus doesn’t use that line in the Sermon on the Plain here in Luke 6. Instead he uses the Beatitudes section to set up a contrast.  Blessed are the poor and the hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated, reviled, spurned, all on account of Christ.  They are blessed precisely because they are God’s people.  And no matter what the evil world throws at them, it cannot destroy this truth: in Christ, we are heirs of His kingdom.  Yours is the kingdom of God.  You shall be satisfied, you shall laugh.  Rejoice, leap for joy, your reward is great in heaven.  And that reward is Jesus.  Life with Him that never ends.

And again, this is a contrast.  Woe to the rich, to those who are full, to those who laugh, to those who are well-respected, and spoken highly of now.  You have received your consolation.  You shall be hungry.  You shall mourn and weep.

The contrast: blessed are the persecuted.  Blessed are the people of God.  And the people of God do not trust in the things of this world.  We do not put our confidence and our hope in our bank accounts, in our careers, or in the stuff in our homes that could be gone in a heartbeat.

This is the same gospel account where we get the parable of the shrewd manager.  The man who is fired because he managed resources poorly, and yet, before the word got out, he went around and he cut the debts people owed his master.  Wisdom.  He thought to himself that if people had a positive impression of him, they would be more welcoming to him now in his joblessness.  The parable ends with the instruction that we should use unrighteous mammon, stuff, to make friends in the here and now.  Your paycheck can do a lot of good.  You can provide for the needs of those who are in need.

It is the same with loving your enemy today.  Not only is this the way Jesus lays out for us, but it is the way that helps you trust in Christ alone for your salvation and your daily bread.  As we give up our hope in earthly things, letting them go, we rely more and more upon the One who truly provides for us.  And this is also the way that opens up opportunities for you to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15. As you use the earthly goods God has entrusted to you, as you use them to be generous and good and loving to others, they will want to know why.  What’s the catch?  There isn’t one.  But you can tell them about a generous and loving God.

But so far, this has all been Law.  Sure, good stuff, sound theology, but all Law.  The gospel here is profoundly simple.  The true words of Jesus are precisely the way that God has treated us.  This is how God deals with us even today!

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that beautiful section about what God did for us while we were yet enemies of God.  While we hated Him, He sent His own Son, to take on flesh, to live a life of perfect love for His neighbor, for us.  And while we hated Him, He loved us, He served us.  While we cursed Him to His face on the cross, He begged for our forgiveness.  While we beat Him, mocked Him, and abused Him, He prayed to righteous Judge of Heaven and Earth on our behalf.

When we struck Him, He turned the other cheek so His blood could flow out all the more, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over us.  When we took away His cloak, He offered up His life.  When He was in prison and in need, we ignored Him.  We turned our backs on Him, and exclaimed three times, “I do not know the Man!”  And when we took His garments and cast lots to divide them amongst ourselves, He asked for nothing in return.

Truly, Jesus lived this for us.  He did for us what we could never do for Him.  He loved those who called Him an enemy.  He sought those who called His truth garbage and a lie.  He bled for those who persecuted Him.

So when Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil,” we are the referent of the verse.  We are the ungrateful and the evil.  And He has dealt kindly with us.

Jesus did every good thing, living the perfect the perfect life for us.  And He gives His own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  My sins, your sins, their sins.  All forgiven in Christ’s name, and in His blood shed for us.  And He expects nothing in return.  There’s nothing you can do for Him, there’s nothing you can do to repay Him.  That’s not what this is about.  These instructions now from Jesus, that we are to live for others as He lived for us are not a means of repayment.  You don’t get in to Paradise with Christ based on your love for others, but only and solely based on His love for you.

The rest of the Sermon on the Plain continues these thoughts.  The section on judging others is again about these opportunities.  “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”  We love and respect others, paving the way for conversations about the good news of Christ and His great love.

And the sermon concludes with the idea of trust.  The man who built his house on the rock, compared to the one who built his house without a foundation.  Our faith is built on the rock, indeed, Peter’s confession that this is the Christ.  That’s where our trust is.  That’s where our hope is.  In the One who loved us so dearly, that while we were still enemies of God, enslaved in our sin, He loved us so thoroughly that He gave His life to set us free from sin, from death, and from the devil.