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Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

Focus:  God speaks unto us the absolution of our sins in His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers treasure their sins forgiven in the spoken words of Absolution.

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

The pain of loss is still fresh.  Several of you may still be quite bitter about the whole ordeal.  On Saturday afternoon, May 20th, the lady Gophers’ softball team tested their mettle against the Alabama Crimson Tide.  And a true pitchers’ duel ensued, with just two hits through the first seven innings of play.

But as the pitchers tired, the bases got a little more crowded, and as they entered the bottom of the ninth in a still scoreless game, Alabama managed to load up the bases with two outs.  Stepping back on the hill with the count at three 3-1, Gophers’ ace Sara Groenewegen delivered a beautiful pitch, right over the plate, just above the knee.

But instead of hearing the umpire holler “strike,” the ump declared the pitch a ball, which walked home the only run of the game and put an immediate end to the Gophers’ season.

That was it.  No protest could be had.  No hope for overturning by replay, the declaration of the ump made it truth, made it history.  Even if no one else agrees, that pitch will forever be a ball.

So what does this have to do with us today?  It’s not the game itself that I want to focus on, it’s the act.  It’s the umpire’s ability to create reality with a mere word.  Because this is what we see in the Scripture today, and this is what the devil calls into question today.

In our Scripture today, from the very beginning of God’s revealed Word to us, we have His account of how He created the world.  I thought about playing around with the lights in here, but let’s face it, it’s summer, and even if I tried turning off the lights, it’d still be light.

It’s Trinity Sunday, we could easily stop and just focus on the verses that speak to God in three persons, as we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, as we see God speak in the plural, although that could still just be the “royal” pronoun.  We could look to John 1 or elsewhere in the New Testament where Christ Himself is credited with creating the world.

And yet there are several aspects of this small piece of Scripture that I found under fire and challenged by fellow Christians just this week.  God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply causes a great deal of distress for American Christians today as it gets in the way of some of things we’d rather be doing.

But it’s not there either that I want to focus today.  I want to turn instead to an issue that strikes at the very heart of your faith.

Three years ago, the Pontiff of Rome, Pope Francis, declared that God is not “a magician with a magic wand,” and that instead God used evolution and the Big Bang to create all that we see and know.

The Pope leads the majority of Christians in this world.  There are roughly 2 billion Christians, and over half of them claim to be Roman Catholic.  But despite this vast responsibility that he faces, he buys the devil’s lie and cannot see the danger that he puts before his people.

There were a couple of accusations there, so let me unpack that.  First, feel free to find an article on his statement of the relationship between the church and the theory of evolution.  The one shared with me was from the British website, the Independent.  And the comments section below reveals the nature of one of the problems.  Most of the discussion is about how it only takes a few centuries for Christians to catch up with what science says is fact and that in a short while we’ll eventually realize that there are no gods in the skies and that religion is just a made up tool of men to manipulate others.

The Pope doesn’t realize he’s selling out God’s Word to please those who would discredit everything he holds dear anyway.

Another clear issue is the worldview that evolution creates and puts forth.  And it’s entirely irreconcilable to Scripture, to our faith.  Evolution argues that life began by accident and that over the span of millions and billions of years, we have been changing, advancing, evolving.  We began imperfect, and we’re moving toward perfection.  And those things that didn’t evolve, died off.  In evolutionary teaching death is a necessity before man comes into existence.

Christianity, the Scriptures, teach the opposite.  That man began perfect in the created image of God, but that on account of our sin, we broke, we destroyed this creation on which we live.  And death is now the result.  There is no death in the Garden of Eden prior to sin.  And the first death is the animal slain to make garments for Adam and Eve.

Evolution makes death good, necessary, and not a punishment for our sin.  Evolution therefore denies the need of a Savior.  Death is merely the natural end result of life, unless of course we can achieve perfection through technology and live forever.

This is awful.  And even most Christians these days buy into it.  We buy into the devil’s lie.  “Did God really say?”  Did God really say He created the earth simply by speaking?

That’s one of the truly impressive and awe-inspiring things about creation.  “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” and suddenly, there was an expanse that God named heaven, and we usually call sky.  “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered.”  And we had oceans.  “Let the dry land appear.”  And we had land.

“Let the earth sprout,” and we had plants of all kinds.  “Let there be lights in the expanse” and we had the sun, and the moon, and the stars. “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly.”  And it happened, and the waters were filled with life as were the heavens.  “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” and we had all sorts of beasts brought to life.  “Let us make man in our image.”  And we ourselves have life.

With only His words, God calls creation into existence.  With just His words, God creates the world, the heavens, and the universe around us.  With only His voice, God speaks into existence all living things and fills His creation with them.

Now, let’s see if you get the picture.  Can you make the connection?  Like the umpire speaks truth into existence, speaks moments and actions into the history book, what else does God speak into your lives?  What is at stake here?

Pause

That one little lie of the devil calls into doubt your salvation, your certainty, your faith.  “Did God really say?”  “Did God really say your sins are forgiven?”  By calling into question God’s ability to simply speak things into reality, Satan calls into question God’s ability to declare you righteous.  In our circle, we call this act of God “forensic justification.”  That’s your $100 word of the day.

It means that God pronounces forgiveness to us.  That our faith that clings to the promises of God, to the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ and in Christ alone, that God looks upon us and sees the righteousness of His Son.  That He looks upon us and declares into reality that you are a forgiven sinner, that you are a child of God, that you are no longer held in bondage to sin, and death, and the devil.  But that in His Word and in His Sacraments, He has declared this truth yours, and you are a new creation.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  It’s not some out there far away thing to be grasped or understood.  It’s a promise spoken directly to you.  But more than that, it’s a promise declared to be true of you.  God speaks, and it is so.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And you are His, you are welcomed into His kingdom, clothed in the righteousness of His own Son.

“As a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I forgive you of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And just like that the declaration is true and it is yours.  You are forgiven and sin clings to you no more.

“Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  This do as often you drink it in remembrance of Me.”  And again, the bread is body; the wine is blood; and your sins are forgiven.

These things are the truths to which our faith clings.  These are the realities by which we live and take comfort and have all hope in this dark time.  The Pope cannot hear these things.  He cannot see this way because he has bought the devil’s lie “Did God really say your works cannot save you?”

But you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not bound to the devil and to his lies.  When you see them, when you hear them, call them what they are: deceit and a defeated enemy.  Because that is what they are.  Christ has already triumphed.  Satan and his minions and even death, Christ has already defeated by His cross and empty tomb.

Faith clings to the promises of God.  Have faith dear brothers and sisters, cling to the very words through which God speaks forgiveness as reality for you.

 

The Gospel Goes Forth May 7, 2017

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Acts 8:26-40

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2017

 

Focus:  God proclaims the risen Savior unto the world.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ to others.

Structure:  .

 

The Gospel Goes Forth

 

You know the abuse of technology has gotten so bad when Millennials turn it into a game.  It’s not uncommon these days when a group of friends go out to eat together for everyone to take their phones out and place them on top of each other in the middle of the table. Take out my phone and place it on the pulpit. It’s called the “phone stacking game.”  Brilliant!

The basic idea of the game is that we’re out together and we ought to be focusing on one another and not whatever is on our screens.  But what makes it a game is this: no matter what, you don’t touch your phone until you leave.  It doesn’t matter if it rings, or vibrates, or buzzes, or beeps, or gets up and dances, or whatever phones do these days to tell you they want your affection, I mean, your attention.  You don’t touch it.

You don’t pick it up to take a snapshot of your food and then share it on Instagram.  You don’t pick it up to shoot a text message to your friend sitting right next to you.  You simply don’t touch it.

The first person who touches their phone buys everyone’s dinner.  That’s the game.  Dinner’s on you if you can’t control the urge.  It’s funny, but if we stop and think about it, how many times would we be stuck with the bill?

I once heard Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer preach on our text from Acts.  He serves as the President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  But I want to paraphrase part of his sermon for you.  There’s a person walking down the sidewalk and they are at odds with themselves.  They’re anxious, confused, saddened.  It may be that they are wrestling with some notion of their own failure.  It could be the recent loss or impending loss of a dear friend.  And here the Lord has placed them in your path, and called on you to proclaim to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

Pick up phone, stare at it, and “walk by the person”

And you missed it!  Just like that, an opportunity to love our neighbor lost, because of my fixation on this dumb device.  We can’t even take our eyes off of it long enough to drive somewhere.  It’s in our bedrooms, at our dinner tables, the addicting screens are everywhere.  That dinner out example from before is one you’ve probably seen, right?  You go out to eat and look at the table next to you and everyone’s glued to their phone, even the baby.  You may not even have to leave your own home to see it.

But it’s not just our technology.  It’s also our fast-paced, over-burdened, over-worked, crazily busy lives.  On the off chance we do notice the person passing us by, how likely is it that we “have the time” to stop and strike up a conversation?  I know I’m guilty of this one.

We have to get to work, or we have to get home to get dinner ready, or we have to get to practice, or go this tournament, or we have to do this, or we must do that, and who suffers?  Well, actually everyone.  Our community is devastated by busyness.  Gadgets and calendars are partners in crime on this one.  We let them distract us from loving our neighbor.  Actually, we invite them to distract us from loving our neighbor.  How many have people have I ignored?

In our Acts reading today, the Lord specifically sends Philip on a mission.  He sends him to the road connecting Jerusalem to Gaza.  And it’s on this road that Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t know much of anything about this man.  We don’t know even know his name.  But we know his title, and we know where he was and where he’s going.

This eunuch served as a court official to the Ethiopian queen.  He was in charge of her treasury.  That’s likely part of the reason why he was in Jerusalem in the first place.  Scrolls were rare and valuable, and so the queen is purchasing another piece for her collection.

But as he’s riding home, the eunuch opens the scroll and begins reading it aloud to himself.  And God directs Philip right to him.  As the eunuch reads aloud from the prophet Isaiah, Philip is able to make a conversation of it.  “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Easy enough question.  And the eunuch engages, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

That’s a profound statement of faith.  The Apostle Paul in his writings to the church in Rome (10:17), says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  He was reading the Word of God, but couldn’t understand it.  And so God literally placed Philip in his midst to unpack the Word, to reveal to him how the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus Christ.

And beyond that, the entirety of Scripture proclaims Christ.  The Word reveals the Son of Man, the Son of God taking on flesh, becoming One among us, in order that He might fulfill all things and take our place.  Removing our sins, drowning our sinful nature, taking on death for us.

The good news is not simply about Jesus.  The good news is Jesus.  Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb put an end to sin, death, and the devil.  This is a glorious promise, a promise that must be heard to be believed.

And so it was, that Philip shared this good news of Jesus Christ with the Ethiopian.  It wasn’t Pentecost.  He’s not preaching and teaching before several thousand.  It’s one-on-one.  He’s engaging one man and his questions.  He’s hearing the concerns of one man, and pointing him to his Savior.

Sharing Christ with others can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The opportunities are provided for you.  They’re all around you.  In fact, the opportunities are so abundant, you could do nothing else but share the gospel 24/7 and you’d still have opportunities missed!  That’s part of living in a sinfull world that needs Christ.  There is no shortage of broken sinners, us included.

Take the opportunity by being there.  Could be in person, could be on social media.  Could be a good friend, could be a stranger in need.  Engage in a conversation.  Learn how to ask good questions.  For example, instead of asking, “Did you eat dinner?” ask “What was the best part of your meal tonight?”  If you’re talking to someone like me, and you give me a chance to give a one word answer, you’ll get a one word response.  That goes for a lot of us guys.  Instead of asking, “How was your day?” ask “What happened in your day today?” or “What’s on your mind right now?” And, if they give an answer, hear it.  Listen, engage in a real conversation.

When we ask someone how they’re doing, and they respond with anything other than “good,” the moment turns awkward.  But it doesn’t have to.  Empathize. Ask what’s wrong.  Keep the conversation going.

Another part of sharing Christ with others is knowing how to divide and distinguish between law and gospel.  Where is your neighbor at right now?  If they are prideful and boasting of their sin, you don’t give them the gospel.  That will only make them feel enabled to sin deeper.  They need to hear law.  And conversely, if your neighbor is wallowing in despair over their sins, you don’t hit them with the law, which would only further crush them into dust, but you speak to them the sweet, comforting words of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of sins forgiven them.

If you want to learn how to distinguish law and gospel better, read the Word.  Hear it proclaimed in the Lord’s Church.  Come to Bible class.  In fact, this month’s Bible class is focusing precisely on this.  Literally, distinguishing law and gospel is our topic.

But it’s important to know that when we are attempting to point another person to Christ, we will likely be rejected.  Be prepared for it, at any point along the way.  They could reject the conversation.  They could get angry when you try to speak into their specific situation.  But also remember, ultimately, it’s not you they’re rejecting, but Christ.  Maybe that’s the good ol’ phrase, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Philip delivered the message, personally, one-on-one to the Ethiopian eunuch.  And he then, to the best of our knowledge, returned to Ethiopia, and delightedly told his queen what he’d learned.  Church tradition holds that the Apostle Mark worked with the Christian Church that sprang up in Ethiopia, but it would appear the Word got there before he did.

This is God’s kingdom, and His work.  We simply rejoice that we’re part of it.  I was once naïve enough to think that the goal of every Christian ought to be to Christianize the world.  That’s not going to happen.  And even if it were, it wouldn’t be my work, but the Lord’s.

The goal of every Christian then is this: to faithfully proclaim Christ to your neighbor, and to rejoice in the forgiveness of your sins whether you succeed or fail.  Because we do fail, whether it’s by neglecting to even try, or if it’s by messing up in how we approach them.  But we are forgiven even of these things!  Christ’s death on the cross covers all of our sins.  All of them.  He removes them from us by taking them on Himself and taking them to the cross.

So we rejoice, we rejoice in sins forgiven.  We rejoice in the waters of baptism through which God declared us to be His children just as He did with the Ethiopian eunuch.  We rejoice that we have heard the Word of God proclaimed unto us.  We rejoice that God even chooses to work through us that others may hear of His name and what He has done for us all.  We rejoice, for Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Through One Man March 5, 2017

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Romans 5:12-19

First Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s sacrifice of Christ overcomes the trespass of Adam.

Function:  That the hearers reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Structure:  Law and Gospel.

 

Through One Man

 

There’s an old saying, that one person can ruin something for everyone.  It turns out there’s a technical term for that, a spoilsport.  But it’s a concept we understand, and we’ve likely all seen.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

For a couple years growing up, I played football.  Practices in the St. Louis summer heat were no fun to begin with.  But then, to make matters worse, a costly mistake by one my teammates in a game would make practice more excruciating.  Say the running back fumbles the ball, and the coach would make the team do extra laps.  Or maybe one of our linebackers missed a key tackle, and the whole team suddenly is doing up-downs, and oh, I hated up-downs.  For those of you who don’t know what an up-down is, all the players would line up in rows, and when the coach blew the whistle, we’d begin chopping our feet.  On his next whistle, you bite the dust, you fall flat on your face.  He’d blow the whistle again, and you pop back up, right back to chopping your feet.  One rep.  And we’d do dozens, every practice.

 

But while some of these things are really minor, and some are quite important, take the worst example you can come up with, and multiply it by a bajillion.  And then square it.

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

 

This is no mere spoilsport.  We’re talking about death.  This is what we saw as Pastor Fritsch read the reading from Genesis.  The fall of mankind into sin, and the punishment for it, well, the epitome of the punishment, is that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

One man’s sin, ruins it for everyone.  Adam’s sin, the sin of not caring for and protecting his wife, plunged all of creation into darkness and despair.  This is the doctrine of original sin.  It’s not that you sin by stealing and thus you’re guilty and deserving of Hell.  Sure, that’s a sin, and deserving of Hell before a holy God, but you are a sinner.  You are sinful to the core.  And you have been, I have been, from the moment we were conceived.  That’s the words of King David we read this past Wednesday from Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Sin isn’t just an act that we commit.  It’s a brokenness, a rejection of God that we inherit from our parents, that they inherited from their parents, for generations going all the way back to Adam.

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

 

It’s important to note the way Paul speaks of death here.  He doesn’t talk about it like it’s just some thing.  He says in verse seventeen, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man.”  Death reigned.  Things don’t reign.  Paul is ascribing to death, and to sin, power and authority over creation.  And we are conceived dead, already under the reign of sin and death.

But this is not how it ends.  We are not left in the dredges of sin and death.  But rather we hear the words of Paul:

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

 

The free gift of righteousness.  We talk about this all the time, that in His death and resurrection, Christ’s sacrifice forgives all your sins.  Not just your action sins, but even the very original sin, that brokenness, that rejection of God.  It’s forgiven.  And even now as we speak, you are being made alive.

It is a thing of grace, that God would give us what we don’t deserve, that He would give us what we couldn’t possibly earn.  And He gives it freely.  He takes the righteousness of Christ, Christ’s perfection, and He makes it yours.  By filling you with Christ.  You are justified.

But again, look at Paul’s language.  “Those who receive…the free gift…reign in life.”  The free gift of Christ does more than forgive sins.  Oh, it definitely does that.  But it eradicates the power and authority, it eliminates the stranglehold that sin and death had over creation.  In Christ, you reign in life.

That’s a wonderful phrase.  You reign in life, through Christ.  He redeems His creation from sin, death, and the devil.  And while all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ by the Father, Christ then entrusts these things to you.  You reign in life.

You take the power of Christ, the forgiveness of your sins, and you live.  There is no fear of death.  There is no fear of sin.  In Christ, the victory over these evils is yours.  And so you can go about your vocations and live freely, without fear, without worry, knowing that any evil that happens is already defeated.  Being bullied, losing your job, even death itself, these things have no hold over you any more.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

 

So while football coaches may believe that more up-downs makes for a better team, the free gift of the One Man Jesus Christ overcomes the one man Adam’s sin.  It overcomes my sin, and it overcomes your sin.  By the free gift of Christ, “the many will be made righteous.” (v. 19)

 

 

 

Children’s message:

  • Can of Mountain Dew
    • Pour can into clear cup. It’s free!  This liquid is free, it’s no longer Mountain Dew, right?
    • Wrong, Pastor! The liquid is the Mountain Dew, not the can.
  • So it is with our sins. Sin isn’t something we can remove from ourselves.  It is us, through and through.
  • Mountain Dew
    • Have a kid picked out to be Jesus already. Drink the Dew in the cup.  Add a little water, swish it around, have them drink that, too.  Refill the cup with water.
    • You can’t remove sin from yourself.
    • But Jesus can. He has.  He does.  On the cross, He takes your sins upon Himself and makes you clean.  You have forgiveness, you have life in Him.

 

An Incomprehensible Mystery January 8, 2017

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Ephesians 3:1-12

The First Sunday After Epiphany

January 8, 2017

 

Focus:  God grants His grace to even the least of all people.

Function:  That the hearers perceive into the mystery of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

An Incomprehensible Mystery

 

I know that any number of you enjoy those fixer upper shows on HGTV.  It’s been a while since I’ve watched one.  I just can’t stand the thought of paying for cable.  But, I assume, they haven’t changed at all.  Some family with a run-down home calls up the Fixer Uppers and cries out for help.  So the Fixer Uppers come in, kick the family out so they can’t watch the work as it progresses, and then they pick up their sledgehammers.

Sometime later, once the work is all finished, they invite the family back.  And the show always makes a big deal out of the big reveal.  They build up to this moment in the episode where the family finally gets to see what their home looks like.

That’s what today is.  We’re celebrating the big reveal!  Epiphany comes from the Greek word epifanoj, which means, revelation.  What is the big reveal that we’re celebrating today?

Christ to the Gentiles

The arrival of the Magi, whenever that happened, is the traditional end of the season of Christmas.  Twelve days of Christmas ending in Epiphany.  Ending with these men, these Magi, these priests, astrologists, magicians, whatever exactly they were, coming to see the Christ child.  These men from the East, not Jews, not people of God, coming to see the Christ who came to the world.

And He came to a world in shackles.  Paul describes himself as a prisoner, in shackles to Christ, but that’s not the same.  The world is in shackles to sin.  We are prisoners to our depression.  We find ourselves wondering how God the Almighty could even care about me, about a wretch like me.  We despair and wonder what use or what value we could possibly give to God.  We doubt, sometimes if we’re honest, we doubt that God even exists.

And yet, it’s to this world, to these depressed, despairing, doubting people that God incarnates His own Son.  Not just to the Jews, but God reveals His love for His creation, He reveals His love for all people in Jesus Christ.  The big reveal, that salvation, that forgiveness has come for you and for me.  Christ has come for all people.

One of the key words in our text from Ephesians is the word mystery.  And it really is a great word.  It’s not mystery as in Clue or a good detective show, but rather mystery in the greatest of all senses.

Paul talks about the mystery of God’s grace in Christ.  That the all-powerful God who created the universe and everything in it would love us, even though we reject Him.  That He would continue to shower His love down on us, even in the depths of our depression.  We may not be able to fully understand or fully answer the question of why God cares about us, but we know that He does.  That’s the big reveal, the epiphany of the Savior.  Jesus Christ for you and for me.

Paul talks about the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles.  Here they are, not Jews, not the people of God.  Not the people God set apart for His purpose.  Not the people with whom God made a covenant, not the people that God declared His own nation.  Not the people to whom He promised a Savior, and deliverance, and peace.

And yet, to these very people, to these Gentiles, the Christ-child comes.  In the wake of His birth, the Magi come.  They take the news home.  In the wake of Herod’s anger, Joseph and Mary take the Savior of the world down to Egypt.  To the very people who have nothing to give to God, who bring nothing to the table, Jesus comes.

We may never fully understand or grasp why, but we know that God revealed His Son, the Savior of the world to all people.  That Christ came, that He shed His blood upon the cross, not just to forgive the Jews, but to forgive all nations.  And for you and for me, that’s a revelation worth celebration.  Because we’re Gentiles, and yet, God expands His promises to include us.

Paul talks about the mystery of the hidden plan of God.  The so-called greatest minds of the world reject Him, they say He can’t possibly exist.  Miracles can’t happen, your prayers can’t be answered.   The world, you are nothing more than an accident of primordial ooze.  A caring God wouldn’t let these awful things happen to you.

Before we even had an inkling of any of those doubts, God had a plan.  From before He even formed you in the womb, before He even crafted the world with nothing but His Word, He had a plan to save us doubting people.  A plan that involves a baby boy, and some shepherds, and some magicians travelling from far away because they saw an incredible star in the sky.

A plan that involved the endurance of torture and beatings, nails and thorns, and a spear in His side.  A plan that shook the earth, tore down the temple curtain, and cast darkness over all of creation.  A plan that involved doubting women going to cover the scent of a decaying body, but when they got there they saw no decay.

We may never fully understand or grasp why God chose to save the very people who doubted Him and even hated Him, but we rejoice in the revelation of a Savior.  That God sent Jesus Christ to die and rise again to announce not just to sinful men, but the very devil himself, that God triumphs over depths of the grave, over the worst of our sins, and over the fiery serpent.

The early church fathers loved this idea of mystery so much that they used it.  They began to call pastors “stewards of the mysteries.”  That is, it is the job of your pastor to bring to you the mysteries of God.  To bring to you His incomprehensible grace in His Word.  To bring to you His insurmountable love in the form of water. To bring to you the unsearchable riches of His Son in bread and wine.  Pastors were made stewards of the mysteries of God, they were to care for the people of God, by bringing to them His Word and His Sacraments.

To you, the big reveal, the gift of God’s grace in His Son Jesus Christ.  To you the big reveal of the gift of forgiveness of all your sins that leads to a life that never ends.  To you the gift of the unsearchable, incomprehensible, insurmountable riches in the blood of a Savior.

That’s the revelation worth celebration.  The epiphany is this: you are a child of God, despite your depression in the midst of the battle of this life, despite your despairing over the things of this world, despite your very doubts of God’s love and existence.  You are His.  It’s a mystery.  But that’s okay.  We don’t have to understand it, the gift of Christ is ours anyway.

Blessings Bring Joy November 6, 2016

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Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints’ Day

November 6, 2016

 

Focus:  God blesses us through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the blessings of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Blessings Bring Joy

 

You have a wonderful opportunity this week to spend a long, fall day with a good friend.  It might be with your spouse out doing some hiking in the woods.  It could with be an old friend out on the lake for a little more fishing.  Or with a close girl friend out doing some shopping.  Whatever it is that you’re imagining, you’ve spent the better part of the day together.  It’s been fun.  And right as you turn to them to discuss when you can do this again, they let out a loud sneeze.  And almost as if it’s a reflex you respond….bless you.

Do we even know what that means? I’ve heard that it was believed in the past that when you sneeze your heart skips a beat, and so we bless someone who just sneezed with ongoing life, that their heart returns to a normal rhythm.  I have no idea if that’s true or not.  But even if it is, who’s the one who’s actually doing the blessing?

We have other times we talk about the word “bless” or “blessing.”  Maybe we think of the way we might close a letter, “blessings.”  Sometimes we even use it to replace the word “good.”  “That’s such a blessing” is the same as saying “That’s a good thing.”  Some use it as another way to say the word “prayer.”  “It’s time to say the blessing.”   And then there’s that thing about giving someone your consent.  “You have my blessing,” like the man who grants permission for someone to become his future son-in-law.

But for as common a word as it is, I’m not sure we often think about what it actually means.  But we need to, because that’s vital to what Jesus preached in the most famous sermon ever recorded.

Our gospel text today is from the book of Matthew.  It’s the beginning of what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  And it’s the longest, single discourse we have recorded from Jesus, lasting from chapter five through chapter seven.  But unlike a typical Lutheran sermon that starts with the Law and ends with the Gospel, here Jesus does the opposite.  He begins with the greatness of the gospel message and then proceeds to share with us what we would call law as He tells us how to live as the people of God.

The gospel according to Matthew really does pick up with Advent themes, the coming Messiah, the coming of God’s kingdom.  And, more specifically, it identifies who that king is.  It’s Jesus.  He’s the King of the kingdom.  It’s His.  Not Herod’s as we see in the second chapter.  Not Satan’s as we see in the fourth chapter.  Christ is King.  And that’s going to go a long way in the sermon He preached.

As we begin chapter five, we see Jesus going up on a mountain to be alone with His disciples.  That’s the setting for the Sermon on the Mount.  Indeed, that’s where the name comes from.  And as He sits there with His disciples, He begins to teach them.

And what follows are nine blessings that we’ve come to call the Beatitudes.  But nobody sneezed, and nobody was asking Jesus’ consent for anything.  These blessings aren’t just words.  They’re oozing with gospel.  There’s a whole sermon in each one, but we’ll do as Jesus did today and keep it brief.

The first four blessings go together.  They’re a common theme. They’re not things that we have to do, but they’re who we are.  In Matthew chapter four, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He’s going around preaching to the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

Some people mistakenly read the Beatitudes as law.  Blessed are the poor in spirit means we have to make ourselves poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, well we have to strive for perfection.  If that’s how you read the Beatitudes, then the Sermon on the Mount is nothing but Law, and in the end, there’s no hope here.  Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t do it.  No matter how much I might want to be perfect, I can’t do it.  No matter how much I want to be comforted, I can’t make myself mourn.

These things are simply who we are.  We remember who Jesus is talking to.  The disciples and the crowds who’ve come out to hear Him.  They’re the ones who’ve repented; they heard the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and they listened, they believed.  And so verses 3-6 aren’t something they do, these verses simply describe who they are.  Who we are.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  We aren’t talking about the impoverished, the starving.  This isn’t about being money poor.  Think of it instead like the Apostle Paul, bemoaning himself as the chief of sinners.  We are downtrodden, we have nothing, we bring nothing before God.  We are empty, we are poor.  And yet, this is the good news, Christ the King fills us. He gives us His kingdom.  We didn’t earn it, He just gives it.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  This is something we all do.  We beat our chests over sin and death.  We mourn the tragedy that has befallen creation, every time we see it.  As we mark All Saints’ Day this weekend, we think of this specifically.  We’ve lost, we grieve over our loved ones who faced death.  And yet the Scriptures promise that we will be comforted, more than that, they promise a place where there will be no more tears.  This place is for all the saints, those past and present.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  Meek, it means quiet, submissive.  If you call someone meek, you’re basically calling them a pushover.  They let the boss walk all over them, they let the bully have his way.  They won’t stand up for themselves.  They aren’t the powerful, and yet they get the earth.  They inherit the earth.  Christ the King gives it to them.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  This isn’t about the rumblings of your tummy.  It’s about a longing, about a hope that we would be made right with God.  That we would be saved.  And Christ the King responds, they’ll have it.  In faith, we receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

For the people of faith, for us who repent of our sins, these verses aren’t law.  They’re sweet, sweet gospel.  That in the cross of Jesus Christ, and in His resurrection, and in His Word, and in His Sacrament, we receive all of these things.  They aren’t mere words, they’re not even just promises.  These blessings are everlasting gifts.

And even at that, these gifts are so profound, they’re so abundant and overflowing that even though we’ve yet to receive them, we’ve yet to touch them in their fullness, they still cause us to rejoice.  The Beatitudes are us, they are our faith.  That in Christ, the kingdom is yours, in Christ, comfort is yours, in Christ, the earth is yours, in Christ, salvation is yours.  Good, great, blessed gospel!

There is a shift here.  The first four blessings were simply about who we are as the people of God.  The next few will be about what we do.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

These three call us into the life of Christ.  To live in this manner.  You might even argue that these things are letting the rest of the sermon play out.  That we hear the rest of chapters 5-7 and we take them to heart.  Even these aren’t our doing, we only live them out as gifts that Christ has given us.  Read them today when you go home.  Finish the sermon of Christ and digest His teaching.  That’s part of what it means to be a disciple.  We have the gift of learning from the King of creation Himself.  And that’s a gift to treasure.

And lastly, I think verses 11-12 actually describe verse 10.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

This gets back to being disciples of Christ, to simply being.  This isn’t about doing, it’s just who we are.  When our identity is fixed in Christ, we will do these things.  We will see persecution for the sake of the gospel.  We will be reviled, and have all kinds of evil done to us and spoken against us.  And Jesus looks at that and says: “Blessed are those…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Do you see how that’s come full circle?  The Beatitudes introduction of the sermon begins and ends at the same place, that in Christ, you have all these things.  These words, these promises, these gifts are yours.  They’re yours right now.  And while you may not have experienced them in their fullness, while you may not have tasted them in their completeness, they are just as sweet.

We bring nothing to the table.  We are poor and meek.  We mourn our sin, we long for righteousness, we endure the attacks of Satan and his kingdom as they let out the final battle cries of a dying world.  And Jesus blesses us and all the saints before us with everything He has to give.  He gives us His own life in place of our own.

These blessings abound within us, they well up within us causing us to burst in joy.  And I don’t mean be happy all the time, but rather, joy is treasuring our salvation from God.  One of the analogies for joy the Bible uses is that of a woman in labor.  That despite all the pain, it all changes when she holds her child for the first time.  Pain and agony turn to joy.  She treasures the gift of life God has given her.  She rejoices and gives thanks to the Lord for her child.  This is joy.  We treasure the gift of life and salvation that Christ has blessed us with, and we give thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discombobulating the Gift with the Giver October 9, 2016

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Luke 17:11-19

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

October 9th, 2016

 

Focus:  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ as their Savior.

Structure:  Connecting the dots from the Old Testament to the New.

 

Discombobulating the Gift with the Giver

 

Today we want to take a look at our reading from the gospel according to Luke.  On its surface, it looks like any other healing miracle Jesus performed.  Here’s ten men, each of whom is sick, and Christ shows mercy upon them, and heals them.  But there’s a lot more to it, and it has great significance for us in our daily lives.

But first, we have to dig into the context.  Verse eleven says, “On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” This doesn’t give us His exact position on a map, but it is helpful.  He’s traveling south, He’s moving from the region of Galilee into the region of Samaria as He makes His way toward Jerusalem.  We’ll get to that.

But on the way, He’s stopped at one of the local villages by a group shouting at Him from a distance.  Ten men, each of them lepers.  And to truly understand their plight, as they cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” to truly understand their pain, we open our Old Testaments, specifically, we look to the book of Leviticus, which laid out all of their cultural laws and regulations about how to govern themselves, how to deal with various things like worship, conflict, and disease.

The entirety of chapters thirteen and fourteen cover the skin disease we call leprosy.  There are numerous rules, and you’re welcome to read them, and they get a little gross.  But for a better understanding of our reading at hand, there’s a few verses we want to look at in particular.

Leviticus 13:45-46 – 45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Leviticus 14:1-3, 8 – The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, […] And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days.

 

This is what befell these ten men.  Leprousy, a skin disease which was contagious and potentially deadly.  But it’s more than that.  It’s like being quarantined.  If you’re a leper, you’re removed from society.  You’re declared unclean, and you’re forced to live outside of the camp.  There might even be a small group of lepers living together, waiting to be healed.  But in the meantime, you can’t see your family or friends.  You can’t go to work, can’t care for your relatives.  It’s a tough condition to have.

And so these ten men cry out to the Christ, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Lord, help us.  And Jesus does, He hears their cry for mercy and He provides mercy.  He looks at the ten men and rather than simply healing them, He skips ahead.  He tells them to go and see the priests.  You were only supposed to do this if you were clean again, if you were already healed.

But nevertheless, they trusted Him, they turned away and started the trip to see the priests.  We don’t know how long it took, we’re not even told how long into the journey it was before it happened.  But somewhere along the way, between Jesus and their priests, Luke records this: “And as they went they were cleansed.”

Do you realize the repercussions?  These men have not just had their sickness removed, they’re clean again.  They get to return to their families, their friends, their communities, their jobs.  Everything they know about life gets to go back to normal.  This is wonderful!  And so they keep going, heading for the priests who will declare them clean and let them go home.

Except one.  One man stops.  And he turns around.  We don’t know much about him, other than that he was a Samaritan, not a Jew, so not necessarily part of the kingdom of God, and yet, he stopped.  Instead of going with the other nine to see the local priests, this man returned to Jesus.

The other nine go back home.  They see the priests, the priests mark them as clean, and they return to the life they had left, to everything they had known before.

This text is often misapplied as saying we don’t give thanks enough.  But that’s not the issue here.  The issue is confusing the gift with the giver of the gift.  The issue is to whom we give thanks, not how often we do it.  God in the flesh came into the lives of these nine men, delivered them, redeemed them, cleansed them, and nothing.  Life was no different now than it had been in the past.

That’s what this text ends up being about.  We confuse the giver of the gifts with the gifts themselves. And it’s not just the unbelieving who sometimes rejoice in the gift of life, the gift of food, the gift of second and third and billionth chances.  The gift of families and jobs.

It’s about us, too, confusing gift and giver.  Sometimes we make the gift itself god.  We give thanks to our earthly things, be they jobs, homes, transportation, family, even stuff.  We look to these things to save us.  Just look at this election.  How many, even Christians, are convinced that the government will save them?  Even in the church, that either Hillary or Donald is somehow capable of preserving the life we love, of saving of world?

We enjoy liberty in this nation, and then begin to think that liberty is the goal of life.  We enjoy our rights and our freedoms and think that these must be preserved, even expanded, at all costs.  We get so caught up in being comfortable and happy and liked that we won’t tell someone else of who God is for fear that we might lose everything.

But we compare this to the one man, to this Samaritan, who rather than going to the priests has a profound insight.  You see, we learn in Scripture that Jesus is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  This man sees it.  He returns to show his Priest, that is Christ, that he is healed.  And he rejoices, he worships at the feet of his Redeemer, of his Savior.  And Jesus says something to him that is extraordinary. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Or in some translations, “Your faith has saved you.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says this a few other times.  But it’s a mark of contrast.  The woman who anointed Christ’s feet in the midst of the Pharisees in chapter 7.  The blind beggar who also cried out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” in the midst of a rebuking crowd in Luke chapter 18.  These few have faith.  They have seen the Christ and acknowledge Him for who He is: their Lord and Savior.

And for all of them this connection is even deeper.  Because as we remember from the beginning of our text, Jesus is headed where? Jerusalem.  And what’s He going there to do?  To die on the cross.  Why is He going to do that? For the forgiveness of our sins.  Who’s sins are forgiven on that cross? Everyone.

Christ died on the cross, shedding His blood as a one-time sacrifice, good once and for all.  Every sinner everywhere of all time.  Every sin ever committed, every sin yet to be committed.  Covered, by the blood of the Lamb.  You see those other nine lepers were still healed.  But they rejected the giver of that gift.  We are all forgiven, but many reject the giver of the gift.

And we’re not immune to this, even as Christ’s people.  This is why the cry of the lepers, the cry of the blind beggar, sounds out from our lips, “Lord, have mercy on us.”  Whether that’s in the Kyrie or the Agnus Dei, we join these men crying out for the mercy of God.  And more specifically, we join the few men and women declaring that Christ is our Lord and Savior.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And it is in Him alone that we look for our life and salvation.

Why Aren’t They Burning? May 15, 2016

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Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

May 15th, 2016

 

Focus:  God gives salvation to all who call upon the name of Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers call upon the name of the Lord.

Structure:  Not this…or this…or this…or this…but this.  (with thanks to Rev. Fisk for the outline via Worldview Everlasting)

 

Why Aren’t They Burning?

 

This morning we face an interesting challenge.  We face the task of figuring out what Pentecost is actually all about.  And it’s indeed a challenge, as so many Christians today focus on it all wrong.

Pentecost was such a great day.  Peter preached and people just rushed to be baptized.  If only we could have more days like this.  If only the church could be better, if only we could just live more lovingly, if only we could just do more good for our neighbors, if only we could just preach like Peter, then we would have more Pentecosts!  People would come to church, they’d believe.

Well, at least that’s what our brothers say who think we earn our own salvation.  They think Pentecost is about us, what great works we can do before the Lord.  How it’s about our preaching, our teaching, our connections, our reason and logic.  Our courage to go out into the midst of the unknown. But in reality, Pentecost isn’t about what the disciples did, not at all really.

Pentecost is a one-time event.  One and done.  God did something completely miraculous and He probably won’t ever work this way again.  And that’s alright.  It was for a purpose.  Here we have God the Father calling out to His children of the old covenant.  He’s calling out to the Jews in miraculous way.

And this brings us to another thing Pentecost isn’t about.  It’s not about that (points to pictures of people with burning flames on their heads).  This isn’t the burning bush.  We don’t have a random Jew saying “Hey, look, those guys are on fire, but they’re not burning up.  Let’s go see why.”  That also was a one-time event when God called Moses.  If the disciple literally were on fire, the Jews would have noticed, they’d have said something.

See, again, it has nothing to do with the disciples.  And while Jesus promised that the disciples would be baptized by the Holy Spirit and with fire, that’s a one-time deal, and it’s not what Pentecost is about.

The Jews don’t come up astounded at the disciples being on fire, because they weren’t.  They’re astounded by what they’re hearing.  And it’s more than the miracle.  It’s more than the fact that all these foreigners are hearing the disciples preach in different tongues. It’s like me going before a group of people from every nation under heaven and preaching this sermon and they can all understand.

That’s another one-time miracle of God.  And yet we have entire denominations built on it.  Who insist that if you can’t speak in tongues, you’re not a Christian.  Hogwash.  That’s just absurd, and it’s completely contrary to Scripture.  The apostle Paul realized that when he told Corinth, “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue,” (14:19).  Tongues had a purpose, and they were a spiritual gift, but even in Paul’s day, not everyone had them.

But it’s not the preaching style of Peter and the eleven that matters either.  Tongues isn’t what Pentecost is about.

Nor is this day about mass conversion, and something we need to figure out how to do again.  This isn’t a Billy Graham revival.  These aren’t hordes of atheists.  These aren’t your coworkers at the annual meeting.  This isn’t the Muslims coming to POBLO for aid.  This is a special, one-time event.

Pentecost is a one-time event in the history of the church.  If you were here last year for Pentecost, you might even remember me preaching about how this is essentially the day the church is born.  On this day, God works through His disciples to convert the remnant of God’s people, the Jews.  To call them out of the old covenant and its ways, and to call them into the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He’s done for them.

The whole point of all of this, what Pentecost actually is, is the what of Peter’s preaching.  It’s the words he actually shares with the Jews, as he proclaims to them the cross of Christ and His resurrection along with a baptism by water that puts an end to the covenant that God made with Abraham and with Moses.

And this sermon of Peter is so long that we will spend the next two weeks covering it.  Okay, it’s not really that long, but we do have two weeks to unpack all the Peter said to the Jews that day.  And it comes from a man the crowd thought was drunk.  When we think about it, we can understand why.  These guys are proclaiming that some guy named Jesus died fifty days ago, but three days later rose from the dead and has just recently ascended into the skies.  It sounds like something crazy a drunk might dream up.

But Peter connects to the Jews right away, quoting to them from the Old Testament prophet Joel.  And it’s something we’ll see him unpack in full next week, but for now, let’s look at the text he quotes ourselves.

We’ve spent so much time recently on the apocalyptic writings of John in the book of Revelation.  This piece from Joel is also apocalyptic, it’s considered to be end of the world stuff. But, as many good prophecies are, this “last days” language doesn’t just mean the Last Day, the end of the world.

The last days of Joel’s prophecy are first fulfilled on Good Friday, as the needs of sinners, the need of a hopeless people, is met upon the cross.  Sins forgiven.  Nailed to the cross; no more.  Christ has set you free.  On this first last day, God judges the world through Jesus on the cross.

This is the blood moon reference.  Not that the moon turns into blood, although I suppose on the last day it could, but in apocalyptic Scripture, this is a phrase used to mark a major historical transition.  Here, the blood moon marks a transition from the old covenant to the new.  The old covenant has ended, been put to death.  There’s a seismic shift on the cross.

There’s still more blood and more death to come in this prophecy.  Because on the second last day, the one we normally think of, God will judge the world apart from Christ according to their works.  For those who are in Christ, this is a day full of hope, of salvation, of life, of joy.  But for those who think they’ve earned it, from those who think they are gods themselves to those who simply think they can do enough good to make it heaven, that they can be their own Savior, it will be a day of great sorrow.  A day of death, a day of everlasting damnation.

This is the true meaning of Pentecost, the true importance of that day.  It’s what Peter preached, the death and resurrection of Christ, a baptism by water that saves in Christ.  And it’s ironic, because those congregations who are all about speaking in tongues don’t preach Christ resurrected and a baptism in which God comes to you to forgive your sins.  They’ve missed the whole point.

The covenant made on Mount Sinai has ended.  Jesus has done this.  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Peter names the name, he proclaims the goods, but for that, you’ll have to come back again next week.

 

 

The Love Chapter January 31, 2016

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1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 31, 2016

 

Focus:  God’s greatest gift to us is His love.

Function:  That the hearers love one another.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Love Chapter

 

Our sermon text today is 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s estimated that in the typical pastor’s time in service to God’s ministry, he will perform 117 weddings.  And for 83 of them, the couple will ask for him to preach 1 Corinthians 13.  I may or may not have just made those numbers up, but the point is the same.  This is one of the most well-known chapters in the Bible.

It’s been dubbed, “the love chapter.”  And it is without a doubt, the most popular wedding text.  Many of you likely had it read at your wedding.  Several of you even have it on display in your homes.  And a few of you might even have it memorized.  But for as popular as it is, you might be surprised to know that the Apostle Paul wasn’t thinking about weddings when he wrote it.

That’s why I wanted to preach on this text today.  It’s a chance to put this part of Paul’s letter back into Paul’s letter.  To look at it through the context he wrote it in so we can see what he was trying to communicate with the Corinthians, and potentially us.

Now, we won’t rewind our way through the whole letter.   We’d miss our chili cookoff if we did that.  It’s enough to simply point out the purpose of Paul’s letter.  On the one hand, he’s rebuking them for being a church divided.  But on the other hand, he’s encouraging them, he’s answering their questions about marriage, and idols, and the Lord’s Supper.  And he’s encouraging them to be one, united body.

The first section of the letter handles those divisions.  Then he comes back and answers their questions, does some teaching.  And then he puts forth a section on life together.  What does it look like to be a church, to be the body of Christ?  What does it look like to love one another?  What does it look like to worship God together?  He’s encouraging them and teaching them.

Our text today is in this section.  We’re going to skip over some and start with chapter 12.  Here we learn about two different, but very related ideas.  The first is spiritual gifts.  God, our Father, is a gracious God, and He loves creating.  He loves giving.  And so not only did He create you, but He created you uniquely made.  Your personality, your interests, your skill set, these things are all gifts.

And he lists some: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues.  A variety of gifts God gives to His people as He sees fit.  God has given you some gifts like these, as Paul says in verse seven, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

And that gets into the second part of the chapter, where Paul teaches the Corinthians that “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”  It’s a helpful image.  Maybe you’re a hand.  And you’re a foot.  You’re an elbow, or an eye.  You’re an ear, or the mouth.  So many different members of the body, each with its own unique function.  But without the mouth, how would the body eat to survive?  Without the eye, how could we see?  Without the heart, how could we pump the life blood through our veins?  Without joints, how immobile would we become?

Do you see how this all flows together?  God has blessed us all greatly with many things.  Each of you has unique spiritual gifts, and when we come together as a family, as a community, as the body of Christ, we are so much stronger, so much better for it.

In a world that seeks independence, the church thrives on interdependence.  We’re not alone.  We’re in this together.  We help one another, we build each other up, we serve together.

And then we get the transition between chapter 12 and 13.  Paul says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  And he begins to talk about love.  That none of this matters without love.

And we have to pause here for a moment.  We live in a culture where love and sex are synonyms.  Now, don’t get me wrong, sex is a great gift from God.  And a great blessing between husband and wife, but it doesn’t fit here.  You can’t take the word love in chapter 13 and replace it with the American mindset of what sex is.  It just doesn’t work.  Love is so much more than romance, it’s so much more than lust, of satisfying our own wants and desires.

We have examples from our other readings this morning.  We have the prophet Jeremiah.  And we see him called, we see God declaring “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  And we see Jeremiah recoil.  But, but, I don’t know how to speak, I’m, I’m, I’m just a kid.  But God still gave him the gift, God still sent him, and worked through him.

Jeremiah still went to the people of Judah, to God’s people in exile, with a message of good news.  He prophesied to them not just about freedom from Babylon, he prophesied to them about an eternal freedom, about being a people of God again.  About a ruler who would come to set them free from their bondage to sin.  Jeremiah used his gift from God to help an entire nation.  But it took sacrifice.  He had to give of himself, to give up his own desires, to be humble enough to speak to people who would laugh in his face even at the greatest message ever told.

Then we have that ruler who came.  Jesus Christ, God Himself in the flesh for us.  Jesus comes and He uses His gifts in service to others.  But it’s also about a relationship.  It’s about loving others to the point that you are willing to serve them.  This is what He knocks the Pharisees for.  In Matthew 23:23, He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

What was the point of the tithe?  In addition to its connection with God, of trust in our relationship with Him, on our level it was so that the church would have the resources to feed, clothe, and shelter the widows and the orphans.  Without love, why even bother?  You Pharisees are giving, but you don’t love.  None of it even sees the least of these.  You’re not actually caring for anyone with what you do.  It’s all just a show.  You care more for a building than for the people in your community.

Then we see Jesus in our gospel reading.  We see Him casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching to the people a message of good news and of hope.  That’s love.  That He’s using His gifts to serve others.

It takes sacrifice.  We see from the end of that reading that the people followed Jesus and tried to stop Him from leaving.  We see that several times in the gospels.  We see a group that wants to make Him their bread king.  He could have been surrounded by popularity and wealth, but He sacrificed it.  And He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” He left it all behind to continue to serve, to continue to love.

He continued on, preaching and teaching from one village to the next.  From one people, one city, one leader to the next.  Until that night when He was betrayed by His own, arrested in a garden, tried in the wee hours of the morning, convicted of no crime, tormented and tortured for us as He hung there upon the cross.  He didn’t do that for Himself.

This is love!  This is what Paul describes to us.  It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it’s not self-seeking.  It bears all things.  Endures all things.  Love never ends.

What point are God’s gifts to us if we don’t have love?  What point is there to anything if you seek only after yourself?  If God has given you the gift of teaching, literally, what good is that to you?  If He’s given you the passion of carpentry, what good is that if you don’t share it?  If you have the skills of a doctor, what use do you have if not to help others?

The best way to live is in love.  It’s in self-sacrifice.  Whether you’re talking about work, or family, or sex, or anything, the best moments you’ll experience are the ones where you’re being selfless and loving someone else.

And there’s a reason for that.  We are children of the King.  We are made in the image of God.  When we serve others, when we love others, when we are selfless and giving, we’re reflecting God in us.  We’re reflecting the God who took on flesh and willingly went to the cross, giving His body and blood as a sacrificial gift for each of us.  There’s no greater evidence of love anywhere.  Not real, not fictional, than the love that Christ has for us.  The love He graciously gave us by paying the price for us.  Christ died and rose again that we might live!

When we live for others instead of ourselves, we’re reflecting the God who so joyously creates and gives and blesses His world and His people.  And that’s the way we were made.

Together, we are all one body.  Many members, but one body of Christ.  And there are so many unique gifts that we can share with each other.  That out of love for one another, we can use to serve each other, to help each other.  To grow together.  There’s a great appreciation for our farmers for providing us food.  The farmers in turn appreciate those who make the machines.  The machinist appreciates the doctor for helping heal their wounds.  The doctor appreciates the teachers that loved and trained him.  The teacher appreciates the parents who taught their children respect and hard work.  The list goes on and on.  It’s called interdependence.  As a family, as the body of Christ, we work together, we serve one another.  We love each other.

In time, all these things will pass away.  In time, we won’t need teachers or doctors.  Lawyers or accountants.  But when the perfect comes, when we are fully known, love will remain.  The love of God that gives life, that is life.  The body of Christ will be with Christ forevermore.

 

The Wonder of a New Covenant March 22, 2015

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2015

 

Focus:  God gives us the gift of a new covenant.

Function:  That the hearers look forward to the new covenant and the new creation.

Structure:  Two-Fold Prophecy.

 

The Wonder of a New Covenant

 

Last week, we journeyed together through the book of Numbers.  And we saw a cycle.  God blesses His people, and we grumble.  God blesses His people, and we sin.  Despite the awesome deliverance that they had seen and received from the hands of the Egyptians, through plagues, parting the Red Sea, drowning the Egyptian army, all they could think about was how bad the food tasted.  We broke the covenant of God.

In a way, that’s where our text picks up today.  The prophet Jeremiah is telling us of the failed covenant of old, and that instead, God is now promising us a new covenant.  Sure, we’re skipping roughly 500 years of human history, but all that time it’s basically the same cycle:  God blesses His people, and we grumble.

31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

 

At the very mention of the new covenant, I know what my 6th graders are thinking: the Lord’s Supper.  I’m confident!  We’ve talked about it so much recently that they’re probably already regurgitating the words of institution in their minds.  And that’s a beautiful thing!

We’ll be looking at this in much more detail next week during Holy Week, specifically on Maundy Thursday as that’s a very important event from that day.  So for today, for now, it’s good enough to simply make the connection.  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  The power of the new covenant is the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross, poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.  In His blood, your sins are gone.  He redeems us from the broken covenant of old and lifts us up as God’s people once again.

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

 

We can see how this fits with what Christ taught His disciples that night.  God makes the new covenant with the house of Israel, that is with all His people who believe in Him.  Paul, both in Romans 9 and Galatians 6, speaks of us as being the new Israel, not by flesh, but by believing in the promise.  This covenant belongs to us.

The law was then given to the people.  The people who surrounded Jesus in those days had the Scriptures and the scribes, the teachers of the law, and of course, the Pharisees.  If there was a Pharisee in your community, you could safely bet the family farm that everyone knew the law.

It was written on their hearts from childhood, having learned it from their parents and the religious leaders.  Even Christ, as He grew up, had to learn it.

And the idea that no one would have to tell their brother or their neighbor about the Lord anymore is also evident.  Remember as Jesus traveled about the region in His ministry how massive crowds seemed to follow Him wherever He went.  He was well known in that region, by the greatest and the least of the people.

And then that our sins are forgiven and forgotten comes from His blood shed for us upon the cross.  As often as we drink it, in remembrance of Him.

But yet, at the same time, these verses don’t perfectly fit with Christ’s earthly ministry.  Yet again, we have broken the new covenant.  We have gone right back to what God said, “My covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.”  A marriage works by putting your spouse before yourself.  Their needs before your own.  In that way, you take care of them, and they take care of you.  It’s self-sacrificing.  But it also helps us better understand our relationship with God.

God doesn’t have needs to be met, but it’s similar with God.  That we would put Him before ourselves.  That we would learn to trust in Him to care for us.  That He would indeed sacrifice of Himself to care for us, as He did when He put His Son on the cross.  We have often failed to put Him before ourselves.  To trust in Him before earthly things.  We constantly are putting other things first, typically starting with “me, myself, and I.”

We forgo our relationship with Him by saying it doesn’t matter.  We may not say it out loud, but we often say it with our actions.  That being with Him on a daily basis isn’t an important thing in our lives.  That being with Him and the rest of His family in His house on a regular, weekly basis doesn’t matter.  It’s more important that I sleep in from time to time.  It’s more important that I get all these other things done.

And despite having His law written upon our hearts, we still fight against it.  The angel on your shoulder says “don’t do it,” but we listen to the little devil on the other shoulder telling us how much fun it will be to have a couple drinks too many or encouraging us to get ahead in life by working so much our children don’t even know us anymore.

Despite His law being written in its entirety on paper for us to hold, we ignore it.  We come up with every excuse in the world to not open His Word on a daily basis and actually let it inform our lives, transform our lives.

All too often, we choose not to be His people.  And that is evident by simply looking around us today.  There’s no way we can say that we all know the Lord.  There’s no way we can agree with verse 34 saying that we no longer have to tell our neighbor or our brother about God, because they do need to hear it.

That’s why we know Jeremiah’s prophecy is a two-fold prophecy.  It began to be fulfilled in Christ’s work among us during His life and ministry.  But it will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the awesome return of Jesus Christ.

That day is coming.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  But it’s coming.  When Christ will return for His people and will gather us to Himself.  The day when the tombs will be broken open and the dead will be raised to life.  All of them!  Billions upon billions of people, some to judgment, but many to life.

My old classmates had this discussion this week.  What will the new creation look like?  Will we even need to have the new covenant among us?  We most certainly will.  Because God’s covenant of old and new are simply this:  I will be their God and they will be My people.  And unlike with Adam and Eve, God Himself will uphold those covenants and give us the strength to live in them every day for the rest of forever.

That is the day when we will no longer have to teach our neighbor and our brother, because they will all know the Lord.  That is the day when the law will be fully and perfectly written upon our hearts.  That is the day when we will fully be His people.

But as for the new creation, that leaves questions.  Some of the best of our theologians today talk about restoration.  They look at the original creation and how God had called it very good.  How that is the only example of perfection that we know of.  They take that and they say that that is what we have to look forward to.  A new creation, a perfect Paradise.  A place where we all live together in peace in the presence of our God.  A place where we get to enjoy the rich beauty and the wonders of His creation, still filled with plants and animals, food and water, and even the very tree of life.

The blood of Christ shed upon the cross truly does cleanse us of all our sins. And when God says forgiven and forgotten, you can take that to the bank.  We may not know with full certainly what the new creation, what everlasting life will look like, but we can count on that.  That He will be our God and we will be His people.  Sins gone.  And we get to spend forever with Him in Paradise.

Give Us a King! December 21, 2014

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Ezekiel 37:24-28

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 21, 2014

 

Focus:  God gives us a better king.

Function:  That the hearers live in the kingdom of God.

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

 

Give Us a King

 

Have you ever noticed how bad we are at ruling ourselves?  Rome had an emperor named Commodus who was so obsessed with his own physique and having sculptures made of himself all over his empire, that he missed all the plotting in his own court to overthrow him.  Many even blame him for the fall of the Roman Empire.

Then there was King Edward II of England who so alienated his wife that she partnered with France and led an army against her own husband.  And Charles the Simple of the Carolingian Dynasty had his army turn on him after he abandoned them in battle.

The Scriptures are filled with kings doing foolish things.  Jeroboam of Israel didn’t want his people going to worship God in Jerusalem, which was outside of his country, so he commissioned the sculpting of two golden calves and set them up as idols for worship in the cities of Dan and Bethel.   Because the first golden calf had gone so well that we needed two more.

Queen Jezebel is famous for her evil ways.  She led the people to worship false gods, killed a man simply for not selling her his vineyard, and killed or persecuted the prophets sent by God.  She met her untimely end when she was thrown out of a window by the members of her own court.

And I’m not sure if I want to get into all of your political opinions about our own government in the last few decades.  Things might get a little heated.  But for all of this trouble with poor leadership, the truth is, God told us it was coming.

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”  1 Samuel 8

 

And so God gave them a king, Saul, and he did all the wicked things that God warned them he would do.  But God again had a plan.  A plan to deliver us from the incompetent rule of sinners.

That’s the message that Ezekiel is delivering to God’s people in our Old Testament reading today.  He’s promising a king, but not just any king.  He uses the name of David.  David is a king that went down as a hero in Israel’s history.  He was a military champion, saving them from Goliath and the Philistines as well as many other nations.  The people sang songs rejoicing about David their king.

But that’s not the only reason that Ezekiel used David’s name.  God had also promised King David a couple of centuries earlier that someone would always reign on his throne.  “David My Servant shall be their Prince forever.”  Ezekiel’s not talking about David.  He’s talking about David’s heir, his descendent.  He’s talking about the Son of Joseph, a carpenter from Galilee.

God knew that a king was not what we needed.  But in our faithlessness, we rejected God and asked for one anyway.  And so God allowed it, much like a parent might allow their child to do something foolish, like staying up all night, or gorging themselves on candy at Halloween or cookies at Christmas.  We allow it so that our child learns a lesson for themselves, so that they learn from their mistake and so they learn that they shouldn’t do it again.  It’s a form of discipline.  And God did it with us.

In our sinfulness, we’re still tempted to be like Israel.  We’re still tempted to ask God for a king rather than allowing Him to lead us.  We are so quick and ready to look for solutions to our problems elsewhere.  We’re quick to put our trust in the things of this world.  We’re quick to think that we can do it on our own or that we’ve earned it on our own.  But whenever we do these things, whenever we put something else before God, we’ve created another golden calf, another idol, another king in God’s place.

But as He always does, God provides the answer.  He gives us a better King, a perfect King.  Knowing our needs, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our King, to be the “David” Ezekiel is talking about.  To be our one Shepherd who unites all people.

The New Testament is full of that language, of Christ as our Shepherd, or of how we’re all one in Christ.  “I am the Good Shepherd.”  “So in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  After all the fighting and the divisions and the disgust with one another, God has reunited us in this King, His Son.

And then Ezekiel also tells us that God has created a new covenant, a covenant of peace.  This is the same as the new covenant Christ mentions in the Lord’s Supper, “this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  That forgiveness is what brings us peace.  Sin is our great enemy, it’s what separates us from God, and Christ’s death on the cross has defeated it for us.  In His death, He granted us peace through forgiveness.

But more than that, He also rose again.  His death wasn’t permanent, but His victory was.  God raised Him from the dead so that our King will continue to be our King of Peace forever.  His forgiveness for us is never-ending.  His love and peace that He gives us are never-ending.  The way that He leads us, protects us, and cares for us is never-ending.

Christ as our King does mean we have to follow and trust Him, rather than our idols and temptations.  Ezekiel said, “My Servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one Shepherd.  They shall walk in My rules and be careful to obey My statutes.”  That’s the purpose of God’s law in the first place, to show us the way, to help us to live as God designed us to live.  It was meant to help us live healthy and full lives.

This covenant of peace, this King that God gives us, is here to lead us, is here to show us the way.  Our King Jesus forgives us when we fall short of the law.  He teaches us how to live the life God has given us. He guides us and shows us how to love our neighbors so that they too might call Him King.  And He protects us from our enemies, from the evils of sin, death, and the devil.

God gives us the solution to poor earthly kings, He gave us the greatest King we could ever imagine.  He gave us His Son Jesus Christ that our sins might be forgiven, that our relationship with God and with each other might be restored, and that we might trust in Him to lead us.