jump to navigation

Abiding in the Vineyard April 29, 2018

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

John 15:1-8

Fifth Sunday After Easter

April 29, 2018

 

Focus:  God cleans (baptism) and prunes (Lord’s Supper) His people.

Function:  That the hearers abide in Christ by keeping His commandments.

Structure:  Textual Illustration.

 

Abiding in the Vineyard

 

Last week, we had an image from Jesus that we could relate to.  An illustration, that we are sheep, and He is our shepherd.  For many of us, that is so relatable because we’ve heard it over and over again.  Even if we’ve never been shepherds and we’ve never watched them care for their flock.

Here today, Christ gives us another illustration, and this time, it’s one we can even more fully understand.  Even if you’ve never seen a vineyard, grapes growing on the vine, we are all familiar with fruit growing in a garden.  It could be an apple tree.  It could be a berry bush.  In the sermon today, I’ll stick specifically with the words Jesus picked, but we get the idea.

We have the roots and the trunk.  And then we have branches.  And from those branches, we see fruit.  And we know that there is a time to prune, so that the branches will bear fruit again.  And we also know, what happens if a branch falls off the vine? It withers, dies, and no longer produces fruit.

And so today we learn that Jesus is the vine.  He is the root, He is the trunk, He is the whole plant.  He is the grape vine that spans across the vineyard.  Jesus once again declares Himself with this parable to be God.  His I AM statements throughout the gospel according to John are declarations that He is God.  When God reveals His name in the Old Testament, this is it.  The divine name is the Hebrew phrase, I AM.  Ehweh/hwha.  We know Jesus is making this connection to the Old Testament, because the Pharisees try to kill Him for it.

One of my favorite things about this text is verse 3.  “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”  Already you are clean!  Not tomorrow, or next week.  There isn’t a plan to add you in next year.  You are already clean!

This weekend we ourselves are witnesses of this very act.  God washes us clean.  Right here, Eden is washed clean.  Right here, Walter was washed clean last weekend.  Right here, you were washed clean.  Your sins are gone, removed from you by the washing of water and the Word.  You are His.  You are His child, you are His branch.  God grafted you onto the vine.

Another wonderful thing about this parable from Jesus is that it’s not just me.  It’s not just you.  All the “you’s” in the text are plural.  God’s got Himself a whole vineyard.  Everywhere you look around you, that’s what you see!  You see Christ the vine.  You see His Church the branches.  You’re surrounded by Christ Himself.  We’re in this fruit-bearing thing together.

And so, what is it then that Jesus instructs us to do?  Abide.  Eleven times in the chapter, ten times in just the first ten verses.  Abide in Me.  Abide in the vine.  Abide in My love.  That’s the work that’s called of us.  That we remain in Christ.

And Christ defines this for us.  That’s our gospel reading for next weekend.  But I won’t leave you in suspense.  We have to keep it together to see what all Christ is teaching us in the parable of the Vine and the branches.  And so we read in verses 9-13:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And so abiding in Christ in the vine is the Ten Commandments.  It’s the first table of the Law, that we would trust in God above all things and that we would enjoy the gifts that He gives through regular use of His Word and Sacraments.  And it’s also the second table of the Law, that we would love one another.  That we would give of ourselves to care for one another.  Even to the point of death.

This is the Law.  To abide in Christ is to keep it.  And I’m terrible at it.  As the storms buffet against the vine, branches can fall off.  As we’re tempted in the midst of the difficulties of this life, we can fall off.  We’re tempted to idolatry. We’re tempted to chase after other gods, even if we don’t call them such.  We can put our trust and our hope in things that cannot save us.  And so as the rains come and the winds howl, we cling to false hopes, to worldly ideals and dreams.

As the hail pounds down upon us, we find ourselves neglecting and hurting our neighbor.  It won’t be so bad if I tell people what she did last week.  It’s not really gossip if it’s true.  We have no problem bad mouthing our authorities and ignoring their voice, whether that’s our parents, our boss, or our government.  We convince ourselves that divorce isn’t adultery.  Or that lingering stare doesn’t really hurt anyone.

Indeed, even as the devil’s tornado roars, we jump right off the vine, abandoning the things God provides to keep us safe and in the faith, only to be sucked up into a whirlwind of death and destruction.

If you’ve ever seen a vineyard, the vinedresser goes to great lengths to keep His branches safe, strong, and healthy.  He’ll put posts for the vine to attach itself to.  He’ll run fencing and wire for the branches to be wrapped around.  It isn’t the branches that are doing this.  We are given work to do, and we often don’t do it well.

Jesus says in verse seven that “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  At all times, the Word of God dwells in you.  The words “you are My child,” through your baptism.  The words, “Your sins are forgiven” through Christ’s Absolution and His supper.  God has built a vineyard for you.  He’s grafted you into His own Son the vine.  And He’s surrounded you with all the support and help that you need in the midst of sin and death.  We cling to His promises.  We abide in His vine.

And it isn’t just in the times that we fail, it’s not just when we sin that we see God pumping life into us through the vine of Christ by forgiving us of our sins.  God regularly is pruning us.  Working on us that we might bear fruit.  He is constantly edifying His bride the Church.

He builds us up each and every week through Word and Sacrament.  You can gather together, branches in the vineyard, right here at St. Matthew.  Here you can hear the Word of God both read in the readings and professed in the sermon.  Here you can receive the forgiveness of all yours sins through Christ’s very own body and blood shed for you.

God builds up His Church even in the midst of suffering and persecution.  For when the branches are being pruned, they’re being strengthened.  The pains of this life, although not part of God’s plan, are still a way by which we are strengthened in our faith.  God can work through our suffering to teach us to cling all the more to His promises, to trust in Him, to abide in the vine.

God builds us up with His daily provisions.  It is through the gifts that He provides each and every day that we see all the more clearly who He is and what He does for us.  We see the provisions of my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members.  We see the provisions of food, shelter, and clothing.  We see the provisions of family, friends, and neighbors.  We see the provisions of safety, forgiveness, and life.

It’s like the advice that you receive about stray cats.  Don’t ever feed ‘em, because if you do, they’ll stay.  Even the simple cat, another of God’s marvelous creatures, shows this to us.  That as the cat received provision, it began to trust that that food would be there again.  As we receive our daily bread, we begin to trust that it will be there again.

The parable concludes with verses sixteen and seventeen.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

 

You are part of God’s kingdom, a branch of the vine.  It’s not your doing.  He chose you.  He washed you clean and He grafted you in in your baptism.  He gave you His Law, and then laid down His own life for your failure to keep it.  And so you remain, you abide, because whatever you ask of the Father, He gives you.  And so you ask for your daily bread, you ask for forgiveness and life, and you ask for the strength to love your neighbor in the hope that they too may be grafted in.  And God, our Fatherly vinedresser, provides.

Advertisements

The Fat Feast April 1, 2018

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Isaiah 25:6-9

Easter Sunday

April 1, 2018

 

Focus:  God swallows up death forever.

Function:  That the hearers be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Fat Feast

 

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the words of the Lord, spoken to His creation by His prophet Isaiah, the 24th chapter.  The party is over.  The creation is broken, the fruits of the world downtrodden, and its inhabitants ashamed, standing condemned by their own guilt.

The party’s over.  There’s no more gladness, no more rejoicing, no more instruments.  No longer do the people drink wine and burst out into song.

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah’s prophecy are apocalyptic.  They’re about the end, about our own self-destruction and self-absorption, but also about God’s response to our despair.  Because in our text today in chapter 25, we learn that the party is far from over.  In fact, the party has really only just begun!  We’ve seen the judgment, now we get to see the restoration!

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Talk about a promise!  A feast, but not just any feast.  This isn’t Golden Corral or Pizza Street.  The words used by Isaiah are the choicest of foods, the best of wines.  Literally, the best money could buy.  Here’s an endless feast of the perfect cut of meat.  An endless feast where the barrels of perfectly aged wine are bottomless.

And it’s for you!  That’s the best part of the promise: it includes you.  The promise is for ALL people.  It’s a gift, given for us.  And it happens right here.  On THIS mountain.  Isaiah is referring to Mt. Zion, to the city of Jerusalem, to the city on a hill.

 

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Notice again, those same words twice more.  ALL peoples, ALL nations, and THIS mountain.  Regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from.  This promise is for you.  It is again, right here, in Jerusalem, the promise going out to God’s people.

That phrase, to swallow up, in Hebrew is the word “Belah” ([lb).  And every time it’s used, every time something is “swallowed up,” it’s always an act of judgment.  And so here, that judgment is not on us.  That judgment is on what afflicts us.

God will swallow up the covering, the veil that is upon us.  Remember those years where your favorite sports team was just plain awful.  You go to the game, with your brown sack in hand.  You’ve cut out the eyes and the mouth, and you sit there in the stands, with this bag over your head.  You’re ashamed; your team is a disgrace.  And yet there you are.

This veil and covering is our shame.  And it goes far beyond a paper bag and a losing record.  You have guilts that cling to you.  You have those times in your life that you can’t undo.  Things you’ve said that you can never take back.  Harm that you’ve done to someone you care about that you can never reverse.  Things you’ve seen and heard, things you’ve done that you’ll never be able to put out of your mind.

Satan accuses.  Our sinful nature accuses.  It takes our sins and turns them into guilt and uses them mocks us.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No one could possibly love you.”  “You’re hopeless.”

This promise is for you.  That God Himself will swallow up your guilt, your shame, your despair.  God Himself will swallow up your sin!

 

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

 

The repetition in these verses is like gold.  Yahweh is going to swallow up our enemies, the veil, the shame from upon us.  God Himself is going to swallow up even death itself!

The people of Israel that Isaiah wrote this book for, they lived in the Promised Land of God, a land that He took from the Canaanites and gave to His own people.  These Canaanites worshiped a false god, Baal.  And in their mythology, there is an ongoing battle between Baal and Mot, or death.  When the spring comes, Baal crushes Mot, and life begins again.  But every fall, Mot swallows up Baal, and death falls on the land.  In much of the ancient artwork, Mot is even pictured as a large and grotesque beast with an even larger mouth just waiting to swallow up life.

But for us, for the people of God, this stands in contrast.  This promise is not dependent on the seasons.  It doesn’t come and go.  No!  God will swallow up death forever!  It’s the main course on His dinner plate! He will wipe away tears from ALL faces.  He will take our shame, our despair, our reproach away from us, away from ALL people.

And He doesn’t simply cast them aside.  They aren’t merely removed from you temporarily only to harm you again later.  The veil of our shame and our guilt, the veil of our sin and our death is taken on by our Savior.  He carries it for us.  And by carrying it to the cross, He has swallowed it up forever!

Isaiah doesn’t mince words.  He’s intentional; he’s deliberate.  And He only uses this phrase “For Yahweh has spoken,” three times in the book.  And each time, it’s a statement of finality.  It is finished.  That is, God’s Word always accomplishes that for which He sent it.

This promise isn’t based on you or what you do.  We don’t trust in this promise because we can see it, or taste it, or find it, or predict it.  We trust in this promise because He said it.  Look back through the text thus far.  Yahweh is the doer of the verbs.  Not you, not me, not Isaiah.  God has done it.  We bring our sin, and God swallows it up.

 

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

 

Remember from before, we’re living in chapter 24.  We’re living in the midst of our brokenness, our sin, and our shame.  We’re living in a place where there is no singing, nor wine, nor joy.  But in spite of this, God tells us what to say.

On this swallowing day, God gives us the words to speak.  We may live in the midst of despair now, we may not yet be at the feast of God that never ends, but God gives us the glimpse.  These are the words that we’ll be singing at the promised feast.  And we can start practicing right now.

In fact, that’s what you’re doing.  That’s why you’re here.  It’s called Christian worship.  You have come to foretaste the feast.  You have come for a glimpse of the promise that is yet to come.  As Pastor Otto stood before you this morning, you heard the forgiveness of sins!  They were swallowed up by God Himself.  The Absolution is a foretaste of God’s final verdict for you: My beloved child!  As you come up here in just a few moments, you are partaking of a glimpse of the feast that is to come.  You are feasting on the body and blood of God Himself, poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins.   Your guilt is swallowed up in Him.  It’s a foretaste of the final wedding feast of the Lord that has no end!  For Yahweh has spoken.

The Hebrew word in this verse for “waiting” isn’t what we typically think of.  The word Cavah (hwq) means to wait for something you know is going to happen.  It’s not an anxious worrying, it’s not chewing on your nails waiting to hear from your doctor the results of the recent tests.  This is much more like waiting for the sun to rise in the morning, or waiting for the spring and for warm weather again.  You KNOW these things will happen.  We wait for our Savior because we KNOW that He will save us.  We wait for Yahweh, because this promise is for you.

The last word of our text this morning should never be forgotten.  Salvation.  Every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is announcing the power God has over His enemies.  The Hebrew word here is Yeshua ([wvy). Salvation. We wait in gladness, we wait and rejoice in His Salvation.  In His Yeshua.  It’s the Hebrew name Joshua in English.  And in Greek, it’s the name Jesus.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Our Lord and our Salvation.

It is on THIS mountain that Jesus has swallowed up all enemies.  It is on THIS mountain, that Jesus Christ swallowed up your sins and your despair and your grief by bleeding and dying upon the cross.  It is upon THIS mountain that Jesus Christ swallowed up even death itself by bursting forth from the tomb on Easter morning.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (He is Risen Indeed!) ALLELUIA!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has feasted on our enemies by swallowing up the veil of shame, the cover of sin, the reproach of guilt, and the tears of death.  And so we gather in His house this day to celebrate this very thing: God has swallowed up death forever.  We gather in His house this day to celebrate an empty tomb, that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, giving us life that never ends. Jesus feasted so that we would feast forevermore.

This promise is for you because Yahweh has spoken.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Amen.

Leave it All Behind January 21, 2018

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3

January 21, 2018

 

Focus:  God calls us to leave everything behind as He delivers us in Christ.

Function:  That the hearers build their worldstory based on the Scriptures of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

Leave it All Behind

 

Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?  That’s what we see of the disciples mentioned in our gospel reading together today.  Simon and Andrew are casting nets.  They’re fishermen, it’s what they’ve been trained to do, it’s all they know.  And Jesus, simply walking by, calls out to them to leave the nets behind and follow Him.  And they do.  Could you do it?

Then we see a pair of brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They were together with their father fixing the family boat.  They, too, were fishermen.  Zebedee was wealthy enough that he owned the business, even had some hired hands.  This was their life.  Fishing.  And we know all about the idea of an inheritance.  This is it.  Their life, their business, their family.  Everything they know.  And at Jesus’ simple call, they leave behind everything they know, including their own father, and they follow Christ.  Could you do it?

The Scriptures are full of examples.  Think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and how absurd his call was.  Think of the Apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus, what he was traveling to do.  Giving up everything they knew, leaving behind everything they would have found comfortable.  Could you do it?

Could you leave behind the years of training that you’ve received?  The way you’ve been raised, the way you’ve been taught to look at world around you, to process the daily events of life, and incorporate them into your worldstory.  It’s taken decades to build you.  Could you do it?

This is the call of Christ.  This is the call of the gospel.  That we would leave behind our worldly desires and follow Him.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

This is what makes evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus, so difficult.  It usually isn’t heard as a free gift.  We are so overwhelmed with stuff that we have the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  A gift, what’s the catch?

But with this gift comes change.  Painful change.  Tearing down the things that you once loved, the things that once occupied the place of God in your life.  Our idols have to go.  For the rich young ruler, that was his wealth, and he couldn’t do it.  For the Pharisees, it was their pride, and most of them couldn’t do it.

And so as we reach out to the community around us here in an American context, just what is it that we’re asking them to give up?  You can feel free to challenge me on this if you’d like, but after closely observing our culture these last few years, the average American citizen sees the primary goal of life as happiness.  That’s their worldstory.

As they process the news, “how does this make me feel?”  As they think about their future, “what do I want to do so that I’m happy?”  As they process the little moments of their day, “can I put a smiley emoji when I text my friend about it?”  If it makes them happy, they go for it.  If it causes pain or discomfort or sadness, they avoid it at all costs.

So when everything becomes about self-fulfillment, we can see why American culture hates the message of Christ.  “Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?  Who are you to say that I can’t do whatever I want to do?”  Christ’s simple message, “Repent and believe the gospel,” is calling for them to die to self.  To give up their idols for salvation that comes through Christ alone.

Pastor Otto preached last week on our need to hear the voice of God, the authoritative Word of God.  To continue to build upon that teaching, the Scriptures teach that our entire worldstory is to be built by the Word of God.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  How do I process everything going on around me?  What should I value?  Who should I listen to?  The Scriptures are our foundation as followers of Christ.

This stands against the world’s idea that life exists apart from theology. Life is over here (raise one hand), and theology is separate (raise other hand).  This is extremely evident as we see several Christian cases, First Amendment cases, go through the nation’s courts.  The argument is that you’re fine to worship however you want.  As long as it stays over there (raise “Theology” hand again).  You can’t bring it with you when you re-enter life.  But this is simply false.  The teachings of Christ in His Word, the gifts of Christ given to us, inform everything we do.  They color the way we live life in the face of suffering and death.

Earlier I asked you again and again, “Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?”  But it’s not your work.  It’s not something we are capable of doing.  The only thing we can do is fight back.  Scratch and claw and growl as we cling to our idols, to all the false stories and information that built our worldstory through the years.

Yes, foreign worldstories still cling to you.  We still would rather be happy than suffer.  We often identify first as American, and then as a Christian.  Right along with the rest of culture, we want to believe that we’re basically good, when in reality, we’re evil through and through, and any good in us is the work of God.  We struggle to overcome worldly views on everything: life, death, marriage, work, money, goals, learning, education, progress, government, individuality, success, believing in ourselves.  The list seems endless.

Satan tempted Jesus in this manner, also.  And not just in the wilderness, but even in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knows He’s been betrayed, He knows His arrest is coming.  He knows the next twenty hours will bring immense amounts of pain, suffering, bloodshed, and scorn.  And so He prays.  And He prays.  And He prays.

36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)  Christ submitted Himself to God the Father, and to His will.  He was arrested, tried by night, flogged, beaten, mocked, tortured, and then forced to drag His own cross to the top of the hill where men would drive nails through His flesh into the wood.  And then they hoisted Him up, to humiliate Him before the world, and to slowly, but surely, suffocate Him to death.

Christ’s sacrifice, of His own self, of His very life, won for us salvation.  His blood shed there upon the cross is the atoning sacrifice for all of our sins.  His blood covers us.  And then, on the third day, He rose again, declaring to the entire creation that death is defeated, that the devil is done, and that the wretchedness of sin, and all its ways, are being put to an end.

These gifts are ours.  Through baptism, you have been buried into Christ’s death.  The Old Adam, the old sinful nature, drowned there in that water, by His Word.  But more than that!  Not only are you united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, we know and can trust that we, too, will be raised to new life.

This is what prompted the Apostle Paul to write:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

As the people of God today, He calls us by His voice, through His own authoritative Word.  He invites us to build our lives, our minds, our very selves around Him.  He calls us out of our own worldstory, into His worldstory.

And in His worldstory, when we struggle, when we fail, when we fall, when we scratch and claw to hold onto our worldstory and our old worldly ways, Christ is ever present.  That in His Word, and in His Sacraments, indeed in His house, you continue to receive the forgiveness of sins in the fellowship of this altar.

This is our life, in Christ.  And it takes more than a lifetime.  Yes, we teach our children the Word of God.  We teach them to think and to process life through the lens of Scripture.  We constantly take ourselves back into His Word in order to put off the old self, the old worldstory, and to put on the new self, His worldstory.  And on the Last Day, when Christ returns, all other worldstories will pass away.  And we will live with Him, the Creator of heaven and earth, we will live with Him forever.

 

 

Many Lights are Brighter–Together! December 13, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Romans 15:4-7

Second Wednesday of Advent

December 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us hope in the midst of darkness through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers shine in the darkness.

Structure:  Concordia Pulpit Resources Advent Midweek 2, vol. 28.

 

Many Lights are Brighter—Together!

 

Several of you recommended it, so this Monday evening Hannah and I took the girls over to Christmas in the Park.  They love Christmas lights, and the neighborhood we’re staying in right now doesn’t have any.  It’s just…dark.  So as we drove down, they were looking out the windows, picking out the businesses with lights up.

And when we got there, it starts out pretty empty, still dark.  As you sit in the bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting.  There’s an elf here, another elf there.  A few sailboats, but it’s pretty mild until you get near the back of the park.  And then you come to the point where they actually have you turn off your headlights.

Now, I was driving, so I couldn’t see the look on the girls’ faces, but I know they really liked it.  Eliana was mad when we left, she wanted more lights that she could point to and yell at.  But it was neat to see all the lights up, and all the work that must’ve gone in to designing and putting on that display.

But we were there, in the midst of darkness, to see a great light.  I don’t have to describe darkness to you.  I don’t have to teach you about what the darkness is in this world.  You know it.  You live in it every day.  You see the anger, the hate, the pain, the suffering, the fear, the greed.  And it’s only grown in our particular culture over the past couple of generations as we have distanced ourselves from the true light that is in Christ.

Many Christians today live in fear of the darkness.  They look around themselves and they see the spiritual and moral decline.  They wonder how bad it can get.  And they worry if it will harm them.  Will persecution come to me and my family?

If you’re in that place right now, there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who’ve been there with you.  We can remember the prophet Elijah, despairing as he thought he was that last follower of Yahweh on earth.  We can remember Job, as he lost everything around him, family, friends, worldly possessions.  We can look to Jeremiah, a prophet who was rejected and condemned at every turn by the very people that God sent him to serve.

Yet, these men all have something in common.  While they lived in the midst of darkness, their hope remained.  Yahweh reminded Elijah that he was not alone.  He comforted Job and was with him to overcome Satan’s temptations of despair and doubt.  He continued to speak His Word unto Jeremiah to give him renewed hope each day.

The Scriptures are that source.  As we try to combat against the fear, the despair, the darkness, we can’t do it alone.  But we aren’t alone, we don’t have to fight alone.  Paul encourages us to look to our Old Testament, to see endurance and encouragement.  These things are attributes of God that He gives to us.

All of the Old Testament does the same thing, it all points us to Christ.  And so we can’t talk about endurance without Jesus.  We can’t talk about encouragement without Jesus.  What gave the people of the Old Testament, people like Elijah, Job, and Jeremiah, what gave them endurance?

It was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  He is our hope.  And that’s not just any hope.  Earthly, American hope can’t get you through tough times.  Sure, hoping for ice cream at the end of your shift might help get you through it.  Wanting that sweet taste, looking forward to it when you get home can give you a little boost to get your work done.  But an ice cream cone isn’t going to get you through getting laid off.  It isn’t going to get you through losing your livelihood because you don’t buy into the agenda of the culture.  It isn’t going to get you through the illness of a loved one.

Because it’s not real hope.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us a different definition.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for.”   Biblical hope, hope rooted in Christ isn’t just a “want,” it’s a guarantee.  We aren’t just hoping for a white Christmas.  We have full certainty that our hope in Christ is real.   That the promises of Christ are real.  And that they belong to us.

In this way, your faith isn’t blind.  You see the promise, and you cling to that promise.  This is what gave our Old Testament brothers and sisters endurance.  They could put up with the darkness of the world around them entirely because they knew that no matter the outcome, they had a Messiah, a Savior who would rescue them from that darkness, the great light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other areas of the world today endure things we can’t even imagine.  Even to the point of martyrdom.  But they endure, they endure in faith knowing that their hope is not in vain.  Knowing that their hope in Christ, their faith in Christ, will be rewarded.  That no earthly darkness can rob them of the everlasting life promised to them in Christ alone.

Just as they are, we are encouraged daily by God Himself.  We are encouraged in our faith when we read, mark, and inwardly digest His Word.  We are encouraged together in our faith, when we come together to hear the forgiveness of sins in the words of Confession and Absolution.  We are encouraged together, built up in our faith, when we see another child added into the eternal kingdom of Christ, just as we will this coming Sunday, when Regina is baptized right here.  We are encouraged together, hope renewed, when the body and blood of Christ overflow from the cross and this altar for the forgiveness of our sins.

It is through these things, through His Word, through His sacraments, through His promises that our hope and our faith are strengthened, that we may endure whatever the devil and our own sinful flesh throw our way.

But we are like Elijah.  We need that reminder that we aren’t alone.  That we’re not in this alone.  We are part of God’s family, and we have one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If Christmas in the park was just one light bulb, it wouldn’t be very bright.  There wouldn’t be many people who would see it.

But when you start adding more lights, the brightness grows.  And more and more people see the wonder of the display.  Alone, you are still a light in the midst of darkness, a light enduring in Christ.  But together, we are an even brighter light, encouraged by Christ that we can give His light to others.  As His church, we are a burning light in the midst of darkness, bringing hope to people who have none.

A Thousand Years in Eternity December 10, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

2 Peter 3:8-14

Second Sunday in Advent

December 10, 2017

 

Focus:  God promises us Paradise upon Christ’s return.

Function:  That the hearers live each and every day as children of God.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

A Thousand Years in Eternity

 

As we began our Advent journey of waiting last weekend, Pastor Otto sought to prepare us for the physical second coming of Jesus.  That Christ, fully God and fully man is indeed returning to this earth to bring about the Final Judgment.  And it is really Him, tangible, in the flesh, scars and all.

Our text from the Apostle Peter today allows us to continue on this theme.  The Advent season isn’t just waiting for Christmas and the baby Jesus, but it’s also waiting for the resurrected Jesus and the Last Day.

Two thousand years ago, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made us a promise.  John recorded these words at the very end of Revelation: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  I am coming soon.  Those are our Lord’s words to us.

And in the time that passed, these words have been heard in different ways.  If you’d like, make it a point to read Paul’s writings to the people in Thessalonica sometime this week.  They heard that Christ was returning soon, so they lost interest in work.  Well, if He’s coming back soon, why do we need to plant a crop?  Why do we need to worry ourselves about the harvest?  Christ is coming back before all that!  Paul had to teach them that that was the wrong way to live their lives.  While on the one hand, they were trusting in Christ’s promise, on the other hand, they failed to keep in mind their vocations to serve their neighbors.

But aside from those random false prophets today who keep trying endlessly to predict Christ’s return, even though Christ Himself said that no one knows the day or the hour, aside from these, we really don’t have a Thessolonian problem, do we?  Our problem today with this word “soon” isn’t that it’s coming upon us immediately, it’s that we’ve lost patience.

This is a sinful nature problem.  Patience isn’t a strong suit for us.  And even if you count yourself among their rare individuals who actually are viewed as patient by their peers, what would happen to your patience if it were tried for a couple years, instead of a couple of minutes?  The Jewish people ran into this.  As they waited for the coming Messiah, as they longed for Christmas, many gave up.  As years turned into decades, and then lifetimes, and then centuries, and then even millennia, they lost their patience.

And for those who failed to see Jesus as their Messiah, many of those Jews today have stopped believing in a coming King.  They’ve turned it into a metaphor that deals not with the here and now, but deals with life beyond the grave.  And as we look around Christendom, we’re seeing this pattern emerge as well.  Christians turning the soon return of Christ into a non-event.  A metaphor that His return is simply synonymous with your moment of death.

We’ve lost patience to the point where we no longer are waiting.  Think about it for a moment.  If I could tell you, that without a doubt, Jesus is returning to this green earth tomorrow, what would that do to you today?  How would that impact what you do when you walk out those doors in thirty minutes?

Sure, some people would seek to get in as much of our idols as we could.  Our favorite entertainment, our favorite hobbies, our favorite foods.  But others among us would be overjoyed.  And concerned.  Overjoyed at the return of the King, not the Lord of the Rings movie, but Jesus.  And at the same time concerned for their neighbors, their loved ones who didn’t know Christ was coming tomorrow.  And so they’d leave the church today, pull out their phones, send a text, wait, no don’t do that.  They’d go and visit.  They’d strike up conversations, they’d share the excitement and the good news of sins forgiven in this Babe of Bethlehem.

But what if I told you, without a doubt, that Christ was coming back precisely 100 years from this very moment?  How would that change your day today?  Would it at all?  If we’re honest, most of us have the opposite problem of the Thessalonians.  We live as though Christ isn’t coming back at all.

And so today, Peter is reminding us that we’re still waiting.  And he’s giving us an eternal perspective.  A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day before the Lord.  You see, when we look at God from our perspective, we see just this tiny glimpse.  Just a minute fragment of reality.  And God sees the whole picture.  So indeed, soon still means soon.  It could be this very night.  It could be next week.  It could be another couple thousand years.

So instead of asking when, instead of trying to figure out when, Peter tells us how to wait.  That is, to live our lives in holiness and godliness.  For something to be holy doesn’t always mean perfect.  The utensils used in the Tabernacle weren’t perfect, but they were holy.  They were set apart for a specific purpose.  We are set apart for a specific purpose.

Sometimes we falsely think we need to care for this world because this planet is our future.  That’s not true.  God promises a new heaven and a new earth.  And whether that new earth is a completely new creation, or if God terraforms this rock, we don’t know.  No, instead, we are care for this planet because we’re holy.  Adam and Eve were set apart in the Garden of Eden, distinguished from the rest of creation to be caretakers of creation.  And so, you and I today care for this creation because that’s part of our vocation as children of God.

But we aren’t just holy before the plants and animals of this world.  We’re also holy before our neighbors.  We are set apart, to be salt, to be light, to be a city on a hill.  That to live our lives in godliness, living out our vocations before our families, friends, and coworkers, is to share the good news of Christ with them.

I’m not telling you to carve out sixteen hours a week for speaking gospel into the lives of your neighbors.  We’re called to live each and every day as Christians.  The people around you will notice.  Your friend will notice when you refuse to speed to cut a few minutes off the trip.  Your neighbor will notice when you clean up the trash laying around their yard.  A random stranger, who’s still your neighbor, will notice when you hand them a blessing bag on the road.  Your kids will notice when you choose to shun the words “that’s okay,” and instead speak the words, “I forgive you.”  The little, seemingly insignificant things that you do each and every day can speak volumes to the people around you.  And they can give you opportunities to speak about Christ and what He has done both for you and for them.

That’s the final verse of the text.  On the service, it looks like works, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”  But what is it that makes you without spot or blemish?  No amount of bleach, no amount of good deeds.  Christ alone.  Jesus is the only one who can make this wretched, fire-bound sinner, spotless.

And in His blood, shed on the cross, He has.  That’s exactly what He’s done.  In Christ, I’m without spot or blemish.  In Christ, you’re without spot or blemish.  In Christ, we have peace.

This is what it means to wait.  That your hope isn’t built on earthly things, but on Christ.  That your treasure isn’t bound up in the stock market, but in the wonder of His Word.  That the longing of your heart isn’t for your lunch this afternoon, but for His body and blood at the table which we receive together.

This is the promise of the gospel: there is a new heaven and a new earth.  And when Christ returns, that new earth will be your home.  Because you are His.  Because you are forgiven.  Because you have life in His name.  And this “promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” (Acts 2:39).  So we wait.  We wait for a Paradise we can’t describe, but we know is there.

 

 

It’s Still All About Jesus November 26, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

 

Focus:  God raises the dead!

Function:  That the hearers turn to Christ as the author of life.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

It’s Still All About Jesus

 

This year we have had the honor of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  And while I may not have been here with you for that celebration, I know you all marked the occasion.  I bring it up this morning, though, to quiz you.  Do any of you remember the LCMS’ motto for the 500thIt’s Still All About Jesus.

October 31, 1517 wasn’t really the Reformation itself.  Luther still wasn’t the theologian that he would later become.  And we can celebrate that, the 500th birthday of the Lutheran Church together come June 25, 2030.  But, the 95 Theses at least got the ball rolling.  And the Reformation itself would be founded upon Christ.  That you are saved not by your own works, but by the works of Christ.

And so, as I serve you in your midst as your new pastor, this theme is my own.  It’s still all about Jesus.  John the Baptist once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).  And that is so true.  In my time with you, whether that’s fifteen minutes or forty years, it’s not about me.  It’s about what Christ does for you.  I must decrease, I must not allow myself, my crazy ideas to get in the way of you seeing Christ and Him crucified.

And that was the Apostle Paul’s remark.  As he began his letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

 

If I preach anything other than Christ, I do you no good.  If I preach an hour up here about worldly wisdom, things to help you improve your daily life and routine, I’ve not helped you.  I’ve harmed you.  I’ve pointed you away from Christ, to rely instead upon yourself.  You would literally be better served if I had preached nothing at all.  “No sermon today, Pastor couldn’t figure out how to connect it to Jesus,” would be much less harmful to you.

Our epistle text today is from that same letter of Paul.  And it is one of the most comforting, assuring, confident chapters in all of Scripture.  1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection, whether or not it happened, and what that means for us.

“For as by a man came death.”  The sin of Adam condemned all of creation.  They didn’t know death.  As Adam and Eve lived together in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, caring for God’s creation, they didn’t know death.  But, as they turned from God, rebelled against Him to follow their own path, this rebellion, this sin against God brought death not only to them, but to everything God had entrusted to them.  By one man death came upon us all.

This is our common lot.  You and I may not have all the same sins.  The things that thorn my flesh may not be same for you.  And you will find other sins tempting that don’t cause me any trouble.  And yet, the outcome is the same.  You and I, as consequence, punishment of our sins, we die.

“By a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  That word “man” really should be capitalized, because it’s Jesus.  It’s God.  And Paul loved this wordplay of God.  When God created man in the Garden, He named the first man, “man.”  That’s what “Adam” means in Hebrew.  And so now, in his writings, Paul will talk about Jesus as the second Adam, the second Man.  In the first Adam, we all die.  But, in the second Adam, we will all be made alive.

And we know this is true.  That Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Himself, sacrificed Himself for us.  Out of His great love for us, He willingly surrendered His own life, allowing sinful man to nail Him to the cross.  And so we did.  But in that crucifixion, as the blood of Christ poured out, all of our sins were forgiven.  All of them.  Gone.

“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.”  Paul shows us the three things that happen from Christ’s resurrection.  First, obviously, is that Christ is made alive again.  The tomb is empty, our Lord lives!

Second, when Christ returns, as He’s promised He will, all those who had faith in Christ will be made alive again!  I love to mention this at the graveside after a funeral.  Imagine what this place will look like when Christ returns and your loved ones are raised to life again.  What a wonderful, glorious day that will be!

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”  The third and final thing that comes of Christ’s resurrection is the destruction of evil.  Satan and his minions, sinful rulers, disease, decay, you name it.  Defeated by the empty tomb of Christ.

“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”  I’m not sure we think about this verse very often, but it is a verse of tremendous comfort.  Christ reigns.  Even now, even in the midst of our brokenness, as we watch the world around us come unraveled, as our lives feel like their falling into despair, even in this Christ reigns!  He is Lord of heaven and earth!  And we’re His dear precious family.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  I don’t have a perfect answer for you.  I’m not sure I could rightly explain why sin is defeated before death.  But we see it.  We see it every day.  We know this is true.  But Christ has promised, that in His death and in His resurrection, He has overcome the grave even for us!  He has defeated death, and we get to enjoy the benefits of that gift for the rest of forever.

And so, this is where I must always point you, where every sermon must go.  Word and Sacrament.  A sermon is only good if it points you to Jesus.

Now, in a world of constant entertainment, constant bombardment of different images and flashes of light on a screen, hearing the same thing over and over again may sound boring, or like it would get old, but let’s try this.

A woman once approached her husband after many years of marriage, and she said, “John, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?”  And John replied, “Well, I told you once on the day we got married.  I just figured if anything ever changed, I’d let you know.”  For those of you ladies here today who are married, do those words, “I love you,” spoken to you by your husband, do those words ever get old?

This is where we go.  This is our hope, our life.  In baptism, God claims you as His own child.  In Confession and Absolution, all your sins are forgiven, you are free.  In the Lord’s Supper, you come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and receive His very own body and blood, giving you forgiveness and life.

It may not be the right church season, but I believe you know the words.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!  This is our hope.  This is our confidence.  Because Christ lives, we live.  And may that good news always flow from this pulpit.

Farewell to Our Family at St. John’s November 5, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

1 John 3:1-3

All Saints’ Day

November 5, 2017

 

Focus:  God calls us His children through the blood of His Son in our baptisms.

Function:  That the hearers, as a family, trust in the purifying blood of Christ alone.

Structure:  .

 

Farewell to Our Family at St. John’s

 

I’ve been here long enough that you’ve actually heard me preach on all three of our Scriptures today.  So, just as I’d gotten to the point where I could pull up old sermons and bore you to death, the Lord saw fit to whisk me away.  Now I get a new flock to bore!  Thanks for putting up with me.

In all seriousness, the epistle reading from John’s first letter to the church is wonderfully  fitting for our time together this morning.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  Amen, amen, means yes, yes, it shall be so.  We rejoice in this.  We rejoice that the Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and earth, of the entire universe, loves us.  He loves you and me.

He loves us so richly, so abundantly, so lavishly, that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ to take away our sins, by His death on the cross.  That He raised His Son again, that we might also have life that never ends!  This is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful good news!

Today, you and I are children of God, through the wondrous gift of baptism, we are family.  Brothers and sisters of Christ, children of the Heavenly Father.  This is fantastic stuff!  And it’s ours, it’s our free gift from God.

I’m going to skip to the end of the reading, to the law, to the idea of sanctification.  “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself…”  When God claims you as His own child, through water and the Word, we become a new creation.  And now, through daily remembering our baptism, daily repentance and forgiveness, we live as children of God.  I see so much of this in you.

You are an extraordinarily generous congregation.  There’s a Bible verse that talks about how you shouldn’t muzzle the ox while he’s treading out the grain.  You don’t muzzle your pastor.  You care for your workers.  You care for the servants that God places into your midst.    The way you pay your staff, the way you care for their health, the way you help them plan for their future, is tremendous.  Thank you!

You also put that generosity out there last weekend.  Pastor Fritsch set a low bar, with a goal of about half of what we raised for Feed My Starving Children last year.  You not only hurdled that bar, we raised $3,502, which beats last year’s number as well.  That’s 15,918 meals that you all just provided last weekend for these families.  Thank you!

Hannah and I can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for us these last five years, and you haven’t stopped.  You aren’t mad at us for leaving, you haven’t given us the cold shoulder.  Instead, we’ve had help with babysitting, with ripping out carpet, disposing of carpet, packing our stuff, some food, and even emptying the oil and gas from our lawnmower.  Thank you!

And the way that you treat our children.  You treat them as your own.  You love on them here at the church.  You’re willing to hold them or sit with them during the service so that they can learn to worship God and receive His gifts, and you enjoy playing with them, not during the service.   All the smiles, the conversations, the relationships.  And your love towards them extends beyond these walls, also.  If I can encourage you here, if you do this for every child, this congregation will never lack for young families.  Thank you!

For your service in the community, through backpacks, SALT, UMR lunches, Channel One.  For your love for God’s Word, the strength of Bible classes.  For your love of teaching His Word to the children that you’ve welcomed into your family in this place through Milestones, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Youth Group.  Thank you!

You’re good at loving one another.  This is one of the least divided and conflicted congregations I’ve ever known.  That’s a wonderful blessing, both to you and your pastor, but also to your community. Thank you!

But, if we’re honest, we aren’t perfect.  And sometimes, ministry here has been a mess.  There’ve been times where volunteers were hard to find.  The Christian Outreach Committee probably bears that burden the most.

There have been times where I met with you in the midst of unrepented sins.  And while I can rejoicingly say that some of those sins were repented, it is with sadness and heavy heart that I know not everyone repented in those times.  I will continue to pray for those people, as I hope you would as well.

And probably our biggest struggle is in the affluence of our land.  We share that struggle with Christians across America, as we allow our wealth and our comfort to overcome the gospel.  That we don’t want to risk our nice life to share the gospel with someone who desperately needs it.  To this end, I pray you’ll always have pastors who are willing use God’s law to shake you out of your comfort zone.

For all the good we do, it’s just not enough, is it?  In confirmation class this week, one of the boys asked about heaven.  I didn’t even let him finish the question.  He started by asking, “If I’m good enough to get to heaven someday…” and I interrupted.  Because he isn’t.  You aren’t.  I’m not.  And no amount of good deeds, no amount of being a good boy, can change that.  We can’t earn heaven.  We can’t earn Paradise.

But the verse ends with “He is pure.”  Because in the end, it’s not up to us.  It’s not up to what we do.  It’s up to Him.  And He’s done it.  His purity, His righteousness, is made yours.  It’s a gift, a gift that can’t be overcome, and it can’t be taken from you.

“Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.”  There’s more to this.  We are children of God, right here, right now!  And we rejoice at that.  But we rejoice all the more because we know there’s more to the promise.  That God’s grace, that His lavish love for us didn’t end on the cross.  It wasn’t just in the here and the now that He saved you.

This gift, this salvation, in the wonders of the resurrection of Christ, this gift is yours forever!  Because He has conquered the grave!  He has conquered death and the devil and they no longer have any power over you!

We may not know what Paradise and forever with God will look like, but God is the author of all things good, and we can know and trust that life with Him will be forever awesome.

This is gospel.  As Paul encouraged the early church, so I encourage you.  Let the cross and the empty tomb of Christ always be in your preaching and teaching, and let them always be in your homes.  If anyone comes to you with any other message claiming it to be the gospel, reject them.  Cling to Christ alone.  He is more than enough.

While today seems like a day of goodbye’s, it really isn’t.  You’ve gained a preacher, a teacher, a resource.  And while I may not be your pastor anymore, I’m moving, not dying.  You will continue to look to Pastor Fritsch for his care and guidance as he delivers to you the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.  But I’m sure he won’t mind if you add my sermons in the new congregation to your weekly commute podcast list.  They’ll be online.

We are family.  I don’t just begin every sermon with the phrase, “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” for nothing.  I mean it.  You’re my family.  And we love you.  And we will miss you.  But this isn’t the end.  Technology allows all kinds of ways for God’s people to remain in touch even across vast distances.  But I also know that this isn’t the last time I’ll see you.  It may not be here, it may not be on this earth, it may not be in this lifetime, but I have the utmost confidence that we will see you again in God’s everlasting kingdom, at the feast that knows no end.  Just as you have the utmost confidence that you will again see your loved ones who have walked before us in the faith.  In Christ alone, dear brothers and sisters, we are God’s children, now and forevermore.

 

The Idol in the Room October 22, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Matthew 22:15-22

Proper 24

October 22, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves the world not through the government, but through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ alone for their salvation.

Structure:  .

 

The Idol in the Room

 

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen some of the Pharisees’ greatest attempts to trap Jesus.  And today’s gospel account is another.  This might be the most well-known of their traps, as they tried to use politics and money against Christ.  And again they had Him.  If He sides with not paying taxes, the Roman soldiers are right there and will arrest Him for inciting a rebellion against Caesar.  If He sides with Rome, the crowds who have been brutalized by the heavy taxes will turn on Him.

But then He gives His famous answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s.”  But at this point, we’re abandoning the trap narrative.  I want to take a closer look this morning at that famous statement of Christ, and what it means in our context.  Because there’s an idol in the room.  And we rarely, if ever, talk about it.

In that quote, what belongs to Caesar?  Pause for answers, likely incorrect.  The correct answer to the question is nothing.  Listen to the Psalmist, David, as he began to write the 24th Psalm, “The earth is Yahweh’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”  Jesus’ own answer is a trick, because everything belongs to God alone.  There are numerous other Bible verses that say the same thing.  That’s our topic of stewardship, that we own nothing, we only manage the things God entrusts to us. Even as I sign away “my” house to this new couple in a few weeks.  We need to watch our language.  It’s God’s house, not mine, not the bank’s, not this family.  It’s His.

This topic has been in the news a lot this fall.  A LOT.  And even that’s an understatement.  Many of you are probably very familiar with the disrespectful remark that the President of this land made publically on Friday night, September 22nd.  When he called out the football players protesting during the national anthem, labeling them sons of …[female dogs].  You know the word.  But for the children present, I won’t say it.

A league full of division found this to rally around.  And the protest of just a handful, became the protest of entire teams, and nearly the entire NFL that following week 3 Sunday.  I watched the ensuing bloodbath with a lot of interest.  Now I won’t talk about how this is really two sides speaking past each other, rather than to each other, listening and learning from one another.  That’s worth talking about, but it’s not connected to Jesus’ words in our text today.

So instead, what I thought made it so interesting to watch the fallout that day, and the next several weeks, in every media outlet, on Facebook news feeds, conversations on the street, maybe even in your workplaces and schools.  I watched as two of American Christians biggest idols went to war.  And to my surprise the NFL lost.  As many of my Christian friends decided to give up on football all together, the flag won.

We talk about false idols a lot.  Because we’re idolaters, it’s the biggest temptation that Satan puts before us because it breaks the very first commandment, that you shall have no other gods.  Anything we put before the Lord is an idol, and Satan loves this trick.  And so we talk about it.  We talk about the prosperity gospel, a false gospel indeed.  We talked last week about putting family, friends, hobbies, or jobs before God.  But today, we’re talking about the false gospel that is patriotism, which thrives in this land. It’s a false gospel when we look for our security in anything other than God Himself.

There was a really fascinating article on this topic on one of America’s leading online liberal news websites.  It was written by a Christian journalist, Jason Foster, and I still have no idea how it got past the editing floor, let alone, how it’s still online today.  I’m going to let his own words pose a challenge to you this morning.  From the article, “Why ‘God and Country’ Christianity is Just Another Phony Prosperity Gospel,”:

This form of American Christianity is a frustrating faction of the faith. There are passionate but generic references to God, calls for fervent prayer and public pleas for “morality.” But the alleged No. 1 devotion to God is usually tied to a No. 1a devotion to the Stars and Stripes, as if one must always be tied to the other.

 

It’s a gospel that pays lip service to a god that’s in control, but it’s heavy on emotions that say man is really the one who protects us. In other words, it’s a gospel that downplays or ignores the complete sovereignty of God.

 

Among its other tenets:

It’s a gospel that suggests living out and sharing your faith is dependent on having the freedom to do so.

It’s a gospel that looks to the government, rather than the church or the home, to do the heavy lifting on matters of faith.

It’s a gospel that suggests without conservative Supreme Court justices, or without guns, or without a strong military that life will be unbearable for Christians.

It’s a gospel that suggests one’s greatest source of identity and value can be found in one’s nationality.

It’s a gospel that laments the loss of prayer in schools, rather than the lack of prayer at home.

It’s a gospel that dreads a future in which Christians are persecuted for sharing their faith, but puts no real emphasis on sharing it now.

It’s a gospel that says it’s better to silence opponents than minister to them.

It’s a gospel that looks to Fox News for truth, rather than the Bible.

It’s a gospel that says it’s OK to put biblical teachings aside to “make America great.”

It’s a gospel that calls for blood when someone “disrespects” the national anthem.

It’s a gospel that says persecution is having to hear someone say “happy holidays.”

It’s a gospel that says eating at Chick-fil-A counts as living out your faith.

Friends, it’s simply a false gospel.

 

That’s a lot of false teaching that he just challenged in such a short space.  And he wrote that a year ago.

This idol lives among us.  To see brother pastors overstep their bounds and protect the flag, a piece of cloth, over the people whom they should be sharing the gospel with, is depressing.  This tab in my throat reminds me that the words I speak I speak not of my own will, but in service to His (point up) will.  This tab is white because of the blood of Christ, cleansing me of my sins, not striped with seven red lines.

While the separation of Church and state is a false concept to begin with, and one pushed upon us not by Scripture but by the very state that would benefit most from it, we do need to understand Luther’s teaching of the two realms.

God works in this world in two distinct ways.  On the one hand, God works to preserve and care for His creation.  He works to establish law and to bring about justice.  On the other hand, God is working to bring people into a right relationship with Himself.  He’s working to fully restore this world to the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, justifying people not in their works, but in Christ’s own righteousness.  We call this hand “government.”  We call this hand “church.”  They aren’t separate, but they are distinct.  Two clearly distinct vocations.

Two of the false ideas that go with an idol of patriotism would be these: Christianity is the American religion, and, America is God’s chosen nation.  Those are both false.  One 4th of July Sunday I recall visiting a congregation who began their service with the color guard presenting the nation’s flag.  The people then proceeded to pledge their allegiance to that flag, all the hymns were sung in honor of America, and the sermon was very heavily based upon the history of this being a Christian nation, with the note of sadness at the decline of our culture and the lack of prominence of the Church today.

Imagine that being flipped.  Imagine going to a foreign nation, let’s say North Korea. Somebody has to take the risk to share the gospel with them. And you find the Christians there, and you go to worship with them.  And down comes a flag, and out of their mouths a song praising their nation.  Could you join them?  Could you sing it with them?  Or would it seem out of place?  Didn’t you go there, to that church, that morning, to worship Jesus with your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Didn’t you go there to approach the Lord’s table, to receive His body and blood, shed for you?  Our partner churches throughout the world fly no flag in their sanctuaries.  And American Lutherans only started while they were still speaking German during the World Wars because they wanted to prove which side they were on.

Now, allow me to take a step backward.  There is nothing wrong with loving your country, which is what it means to be patriotic on the most basic level of that word.  There’s nothing wrong on the 4th of July if your pastor prays for this nation.  There’s nothing wrong on Veteran’s Day to thank the men and women who have lovingly sacrificed of themselves to serve their neighbors.  There’s nothing wrong with being grateful for the land and the gifts that God gives to us.  There’s nothing wrong with caring about this land and its people, being concerned about the direction we see things going, and wanting this country to reflect God’s truth.  There’s nothing wrong with working diligently as a citizen in this land to make that happen.  These are good things.

The Scriptures even tell us that we ought to pray for our leaders, which is why our weekly church prayer list names local, state, and federal government leaders.  This is worth your time, these men and women can really use your prayers.  The Scriptures also teach us to encourage our leaders, and to respect our leaders, only disobeying them if they command us to do something contrary to Scripture.

The point this morning is that we have but one Lord.  And we are ever grateful for Him!  It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves you, not a government.  It is His loving and tender care that we are to trust to stay out of harm’s way, not a military.  It is His hand that provides for our daily bread and provision, not an economy.  We are not defined by our American citizenship, but rather, by being one of God’s people.  And in fact, following Christ will make you a bad American.  Because this land is going the opposite direction, choosing to reject Christ and His gifts, and really, that’s regardless of who’s been in power over the past couple generations.

It’s not our job as Christians to assert our rights as Americans, nor really even to fight for them.  This is a tough one, and I admit I struggle with it also.  It’s hard not to watch the Christians going before the Supreme Court.  Many Christians today fear they are being marginalized, pushed out of society.  But that’s not only true, it’s actually okay.  Really, it’s a good thing.

History has born this out.  Where is the Church growing the fastest today?  It’s in Africa, where people are daily dying for their faith.  And here, and places like Europe, places where the Church enjoyed a position of power and comfort for generations, in these places the Church is declining the fastest.

We lost sight of what it means to be a citizen of heaven.  We lost sight of what it means to be in the world, but not of the world.  You’re not here to fight over your rights.  We’re here to love and serve our neighbor.  Jesus once taught:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. – Matthew 5:38-42

 

We need not trust in our government or in our things or in ourselves to provide for us.  The Lord will do that.  The Lord does do that.  The Lord cares for us.  This goes back millennia!  God created everything.  All of this.  His creation, and He cares for it.  To double back to stewardship again, and a Sabbath rest, that’s all about trust.  It’s God’s way of saying, “I built this in six days, can you trust Me that if you take a day off, I can keep it spinning?”  And, the answer yes, He can keep it spinning.  He’s been doing that for over 6,000 years.

And about 4,000 years into that, God was not content with mere daily bread.  But instead, God sent His Son into this world, into His own creation, to provide for our greatest need, to provide for our salvation from sin, death, and the devil.  To take the sins of an idolatrous people, and to cleanse them in the blood of His own Son.  That’s precisely what He’s done.  2,000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross for the very idolatries that you and I hadn’t even committed yet.  In Him, we’re already forgiven!

And we are the Church, we are the very body of Christ Himself, made in His image, not the image of Caesar America; and the Church exists so that the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and sinners are justified in the blood of Christ.  The more the state pushes against it, the more the Church will thrive.  History has shown this to be true.

 

A Wedding Feast October 15, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Matthew 22:1-14

Proper 23

October 15, 2017

 

Focus:  God calls the people of this world His own.

Function:  That the hearers share the invitation to the wedding feast.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Wedding Feast

 

            Children’s message – reread the parable and explain it’s meaning

 

            I want to dive right into this parable and explore it in depth today.  Let’s read a verse at a time, and then take the time to unpack the various nuances of this masterful analogy.

 

1And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 

            Once again, Jesus is using a parable, a fictional story that relates enough to the lives of the people that they can understand both the story, but also the deeper meaning that Jesus is intending for them to learn.

 

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 

            This is a common phrase for Matthew in his gospel account.  The Kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of God.  Being part of His family, His community.  His people.  This is what that looks like.  This illustration helps you understand what salvation in Christ looks like.

            The wedding feast is a reference to Paradise.  This is the everlasting feast of God.  That all those who believe in Christ get to spend forever in the new creation with Him.  It’s also picture of Father and Son, of God the Father and God the Son.  The king throwing a feast for His Son Jesus.

 

and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 

            These servants have a both/and meaning.  There’s a past tense and a present tense meaning to who these people are.  In the past tense of this parable, these are all the people of old whom the Lord sent to share the covenant, to share the message of God and a coming Messiah.  These are the people of Israel, and namely then the prophets, the priests, perhaps even the kings.

            Those invited in the past tense are all the people of the land of Israel.  The covenant was made with them.  They were to be God’s chosen people, His holy nation.  Through their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these were the children of God.

            And so they’re invited.  They’re invited into the covenant of God, into the Kingdom of God.  They’re invited into the family that never ends.  Paradise, the new creation, is promised to them.  But, hard of hearts, the chosen people reject the message.  They reject God.  They reject salvation.

            For now, we’ll stay in the past, and visit the present meaning at the end, all at the same time.

 

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 

            Despite their rejection, God continued to send the prophets, God continued to send His good news, and His invitation, even His salvation to the people of Israel.  God made the sacrifice.  He made the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, of the Old Covenant, so that the people of Israel would have a way to forgiveness.  The sacrifices did grant forgiveness.  There was an invitation.

 

But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 

            And yet, most of the people ignored the invitation.  They were too busy, they had work that was more important that God.  They had other things to do.  Idolatry.  Whether in the form of a stone or wood idol, or in the form of family, or friends, or jobs, or hobbies, or anything.  Idolatry.  They rejected God.

 

while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 

            And worse yet, many didn’t stop at simply rejecting God.  They proceeded to obliterate all the good gifts God gave.  Those prophets sent to bring God’s Word to His people, many met gruesome fates, beaten and even killed for bringing the message of a Messiah.

 

The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 

Assyria.  Babylon.  Persia.  The Lord used foreign armies, faithless armies, to bring destruction upon the land.  To wipe out the people of the promise who had rejected the promise.  Israel fell first in 722 BC at the hands of Assyria.  For the Judahites, it was to Babylon in 587 BC.  Assyria fell to Babylon, Babylon fell to Persia.

 

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 

            Here we see the shift.  There are moments scattered throughout the Old Testament, moments where people not of the nation of Israel get a chance at being part of the promise.  At being a child of God.  Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar. 

 

Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 

            And it wasn’t just the Old Testament.  This becomes a key theme in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  The floodgates are opened.  The Jews rejected the Gospel, and so Jesus sends the disciples to witness the coming of the Kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles.  To everyone.

 

10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

            And that’s when it began.  The kingdom of heaven starts filling up with Gentiles.  With people not of the promise by birth.  It’s a delightful gift, and one that we today cherish, as Gentile people.

 

 

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 

            There was a usurper.  Someone snuck into the party.  Whether he got in initially by claiming to be good enough, or if he got in by sneaking in of his own will, we don’t hear.  But the foundation is the same.  In either case, this man is attempting salvation on his own.  Like the Pharisees.  To borrow from another parable, they hop the fence to get into the sheep pen where they can then wreak havoc and slaughter sheep. 

            And so it is here.  The Pharisees hear of the promise of God and think they can earn it.  And then, once they have tried to party by their own rules, they begin misleading others.  Tricking and conniving them into thinking they were worthy of getting into the party.

            It could also go back farther in time and simply be Satan himself.

 

12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

            God the Father asks a simple question.  “Without My gift, my free gift to you, how did you get in here?”  In the Old Testament, this is circumcision.  In the New Testament, it’s baptism.  As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatian peoples, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Jesus is the wedding garment.  And in your baptism, which you didn’t deserve, God put His Son’s righteousness on you.  You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  That’s the wedding garment.  That’s the free gift of the Father for you.

 

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

            But for the one who rejects the Lord, they are cast out.  For the one who thinks they can earn their salvation, they are rejected.  The place of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the Scriptures is none other than the place that was prepared for the devil and his angels.  It is hell.  But it was not made for you. 

 

14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

You have an invitation in the form of God’s Holy Word.  You are given the free gift of salvation in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  You are clothed in Christ Himself.  His righteousness, unearned by you, becomes your righteousness. 

The Son for whom we celebrate and feast is also the One we feast upon.  So, God the Father throws an eternal party for Jesus, His righteous Son, and Jesus isn’t only the honored Son, He’s also the meal.  It is His body and blood shed for you upon the cross, given to you freely in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is this gift that gives you forgiveness.  It is this gift that is just a taste of the everlasting wedding feast to come.  When you, the Church, are the bride, and Christ is our groom.

To give you a few more present tense notes on this parable:  you are the servants from v. 3-10.  You are the servants, the people of God, who have the invitations in hand to go and distribute to anyone and everyone you come across.  Sure, they don’t deserve it.  We as servants don’t deserve the master’s feast.  But it’s a gift, and it’s one we give to others.

And yet, even with this delightful free gift, this life that never ends, this message beyond compare, you will be rejected, maybe even beaten or killed over it.  Simply by sharing the invitation with another, you will invite ridicule and scorn and violence upon yourself.  Those who reject God sometimes just turn away, but sometimes they respond in bloodshed.

For these people, one truth remains.  The Judgment day will come.  And this destruction will be permanent.  As all those who reject the Lord, who reject the heavenly feast, will find themselves sharing the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth with the devil.

 

But the wedding hall, nonetheless, will be full!  It may not seem like it.  There will be days where you join your voice to that of the prophet Elijah, wondering why you’re the only Christian on earth.  But it’s a lie of the devil.  You’re not alone.  You are surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christ Himself, our heavenly Bridegroom will carry you through.

Power or Authority? October 1, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Matthew 21:23-27

Proper 21

October 1, 2017

 

Focus:  God has given all authority unto His Son.

Function:  That the hearers lead by serving.

Structure:  .

 

Power or Authority?

 

We had a wonderful discussion at this past month’s elders’ meeting here at St. John’s.  We’re beginning to go through a book from Concordia Publishing House called Pastors and Elders: Caring for the Church and One Another.  The first chapter of the book was identifying that there is a difference between power and authority.

Have you ever thought about that?  Have you ever thought that power and authority were different words?  I think for most of us, we treat them as synonyms, as though they mean the same thing.

But in this book, Pastor Timothy Mech defines the two differently.  Power is when you strive or struggle to be able to exert yourself over someone else.  Authority is when you lead by serving.  When you’re working through power, you are fighting to put yourself above someone else.  When you’re working through authority, you are leading people in the task that’s been assigned to you by someone else already.

This then is the struggle that we see in the text.  As Jesus tries to use His authority, that is to lead the people by serving them the way God the Father has instructed Him to do, as He tries, the chief priests, Pharisees and the elders try to flex their power muscle.

Really, this is all of Jesus’ ministry, and continues even to this day, but to understand it better, we really need to look at all of chapter 21 of Matthew’s account of the gospel.  The chapter begins with Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphal entry as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Don’t underestimate the weight of that move.  Jesus is fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy of the coming King, the coming Messiah.  If He’s seeking power, this is a bold statement, and one that’s not lost on the religious leaders.  But which is it? Power or authority?

From there, Jesus then enters the temple, and cleanses it.  This is one of those moments of anger for Christ, as the religious leaders had made a power play in turning the temple into a market for their own profits.  We see Jesus overturning tables and rebuking the leaders of the people.  Power or authority?

The next morning we get the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree.  Power or authority?

Then we come to our text for the day.  As Jesus reenters the temple, the religious leaders aren’t pleased.  And they’ve taken their time to come up with a trap for Jesus.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  If He answers that God gave Him the authority because as Peter said, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then they will have Him for blasphemy.  If He answers anything else, then they will have Him for breaking the law of man and of Judaism.

But Christ is no pushover.  As He freed Himself from their traps before, so He does again.  But this time, He not only frees Himself, He turns the trap back on them.  And not just once, but three times.  ““I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

And the religious leaders already know He’s got them.  They discuss it together, but they know they can’t answer.  If they say from God, then why didn’t they listen?  If they say from man, the people will be angry and turn against them because they’d loved John as a prophet.  And so they pass.  And Jesus could have left the conversation there, because He’s free.  He’s set Himself up to be able to continue to teach.

But He doesn’t.  He proceeds to throw two parables at them.  The first is the Parable of the Two Sons, which goes like this:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

 

These religious leaders were the ones above all who should be following God and leading by His authority.  But they aren’t.  They’ve rejected God and are leading by their own power.  Jesus has them.  He’s spoken of the good of the people and the failure of the leaders.  But again, Jesus continues:

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

 

Jesus has now not only called out the religious leaders, He’s condemned them.  He has highlighted their guilt and their corruption and has laid upon them the full weight of God’s law.  And they get it, they know He’s talking about them and their thirst for power.  But even in all their anger, there’s nothing they can do, at least not until a couple of days later when Judas Iscariot sells them Jesus’ resting place for 30 pieces of silver.

We see this tension among ourselves.  This struggle of power and authority exists in all of our communities.  It exists in government, as people lord themselves over their community.  Even the elected officials are often driven by power and will do anything to keep that power as long as they can.

We see it in the racial tensions in this land today.  We see two completely opposite ways of thinking violently clashing against one another as they fight a fight of power.  And if this struggle will ever make any progress, it needs leaders to step up with authority, not power.  That is, people who are brought forward by their own communities, handpicked because they can lead, not because they want to.  And then they lead by serving, by humbly loving their neighbor.

We see it in marriage.  Here we could spend weeks looking at Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5, at the ordering of God’s creation, and how in our sin, we’ve broken that order.  But in the shorthand for this sermon, God gave the husband the authority to lead his family by serving.  And in the fall, as part of the woman’s punishment, she will try to steal her husband’s position and use power to do it.  And in return, the husband, instead of leading by serving, by the authority rightly given to him by God, the husband will lead by power.  This is why marriages hurt.  This is why marriages are broken.  Because sin destroys.

But as I had you do before, having you acknowledge that in all Jesus was doing, He wasn’t acting out of power, but out of authority.  Let’s see if you can place this quote: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”  Pause.  It’s the very end of Matthew’s account of the gospel.  ALL AUTHORITY has been given to Jesus, by the Father.  He rightly leads this world as Lord and as Savior by serving His creation.

And He served His creation by loving us so dearly, so overwhelmingly, so emphatically, that He took of Himself, He in His authority, He submitted Himself to the people in power.  He submitted Himself to the religious leaders, He submitted Himself to the Roman leaders, He submitted Himself to the cross and to death.

It is in His authority, it is in His leading by serving, that Jesus saves us.  That He conquers death, He conquers earthly powers.  He conquers the sin that overwhelms our families, our communities, and our nations.  The struggles for power between husband and wife are overcome in humble service.  The struggles between the races of this earth are overcome when we humbly listen to one another and serve one another.  The struggles between government and civilian are overcome when governments humble themselves and lead by serving, and when civilians humble themselves and respect the authority given to those who would lead them.

All of that sin, all of that brokenness is restored in Christ.  And while we will only see shades of it in the here and now, we will be made perfect in His new creation.  Which is why Matthew emphasized the end of this gospel account by quoting our Lord saying:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus entrusts His authority to us.  He encourages us to lead our neighbor by serving our neighbor.  He encourages pastors to lead His people by serving them with His words of forgiveness and life in the Sacraments.  He even encourages all people in positions of leadership to lead well by serving, as we see spelled out for us in the fourth commandment.  The Explanation of the Small Catechism states it this way:

“Who are parents and other authorities?” Parents are fathers, mothers, and guardians; other authorities are all those whom God has placed over us at home, in government, at school, at the place where we work, and in the church.”

It is in our sinful nature to cling to power.  But it is in the very nature of God to lay down power to love and to serve.  Jesus Christ was and is fully God.  And yet He willingly laid that down, the power that He rightly holds, He lays down to humbly serve us, to use His authority to rebuke and to forgive His people.  On account of His crucifixion and His resurrection, we live.