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Many Lights are Brighter–Together! December 13, 2017

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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.

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A Thousand Years in Eternity December 10, 2017

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out! August 13, 2017

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Matthew 14:22-33

Proper 14

August 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves His people even in their doubts.

Function:  That the hearers worship the One and only God of heaven and earth.

Structure:  Rev. Dr. Andrew Bartelt’s outline.

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out!

 

This section of Matthew’s gospel account actually begins with an interruption.  We’re trying to focus on the ministry and life of Jesus Christ, but on multiple occasions now, the life and ministry of John the Baptist has broken in to the history of Jesus and His disciples.

It starts in the third chapter, as John the Baptist is doing what God sent him to do.  John is preparing the way for the people to see Christ.  He’s living in the wilderness, preaching about repentance, teaching the people, baptizing anyone he could, and even rebuking the Pharisees.  But at that point, Jesus arrives, and John disappears from Matthew’s account.

We don’t hear about John again until we get another interruption.  Jesus is teaching His disciples a series on the cost of discipleship: that they will be persecuted, that Christ’s gospel will cause divisions, but that the disciples should have no fear, and that the good news of salvation is theirs.

And then messengers come from John.  We learn at this point that John’s been arrested and is likely doubting his faith.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  The words Jesus sends back speak to who Jesus is and what He’s come to do.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 

Jesus is declaring to John and John’s followers the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 35.  The promise of a new creation is here.  Jesus is bringing it to us.  And at this, John disappears again.

Until we come to our chapter today.  At the beginning of chapter 14, again Matthew interrupts his telling of Jesus Christ by inserting something about John.  And this time, it’s his death.  Jesus and the disciples come to learn that John the Baptist has been beheaded at the command of King Herod.

There were already doubts as to who Jesus was and what He was doing.  And now, one of the most loyal followers of Jesus has been killed by this ruthless, false kingdom.  Where is this kingdom of God?  Where is this new creation?  Who are you Jesus?  And why don’t we see any progress?

The answer that Matthew provides to his reader is three-fold.  Three things that Jesus will immediately say and do that shows His authority, His rule over this creation, that His kingdom is already here.  We see the feeding of the 5,000, the walking on water and calming the storm, and the healing of the sick with just a touch of His garment.

First, our gospel account from last week.  No longer drawing on the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus connects Himself directly to Yahweh.  He takes the Exodus account of the Israelites and He inserts Himself into it.  Just as God fed the Israelites in the wilderness after they fled Egypt, so now Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000+ with table scraps.

And in our account today, Jesus proves that He has the authority over creation itself, to even defy the laws of physics, which He created.  Just as He did to save His people in the parting of the Red Sea, now Jesus shows His authority over wind and wave again.  Our text today isn’t about you being able to walk on water or do supernatural things.  Our text today is about who Jesus is, and how He saves us even from our doubts.

Because Peter is, and the other disciples.  They’re doubting.  They were facing a storm, but the text is specific.  The storm was battering the boat, but the disciples weren’t afraid yet.  Sure they were stressed, but they’re trained fisherman, this is what they do. Fear doesn’t enter the account until the disciples see a figure approaching them on the water.  It is their encounter with the God Man Jesus Christ, whom they still don’t fully know or trust.  They call Him a ghost, and they cry out in fear.

Jesus encourages them to have courage and faith.  But they still doubt.  Even Peter’s question is doubt.  He’s asking for a sign, a “prove it” moment.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And then even when Jesus consents and answers Peter’s demand for proof, it still isn’t enough.  Peter steps out on the water and begins walking towards Jesus.  But as soon as he remembers the wind and the storm, he stops trusting in Christ, doubting the Lord again.

But as he plunged into the sea, in a mixture of confusion, fear, doubt, and faith, Peter cries out “Lord, save me.”  Which, happens to be what Jesus’ name means, “He saves.”  And that’s precisely what Jesus does.  To this poor brother of ours, mired in a mess of both faith and doubt, Jesus saves him.

And as they step back onto the boat together, for the second time in Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus calms the storm.  He shows His pure authority as the Creator of creation to control even the waves, as Job recorded, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”

When Jesus calmed the storm back in chapter 8, it was amazement on the face of the disciples.  They were wowed by first article of the creed stuff, by God being the author of creation.  “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?’”

But now, we see a change.  This time, the disciples respond in light of the third article of the creed.  They confess their faith. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”  Jesus again identifies Himself as the God of the Old Testament, revealing Himself as Yahweh of the Exodus who parted the Red Sea, showing mastery over the waters of creation in order to save His people.

Our connection to this text isn’t about walking on water or performing miracles.  Our connection to this text is that we also have a mixture of doubts and faith.  We do not trust in the Lord for our daily bread, for good weather and government, or for a roof over our head.

We talked about this in Bible class just last week.  When it comes to your need for protection, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need for someone to provide for you, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need to be loved or to belong, where do you turn?

Every government in human history has tried to set themselves up as the answer to those questions.  They aren’t.  They’ll disappoint you time and time again.  We turn to our spouse or family for these things.  But even they can’t actually meet them.  We trust in other things, like money, or politics, or our own abilities.  But it is truly a struggle to trust in Him alone.

We also have “prove it” moments as Peter did.  If God would just heal me, I would go to church every week.  If only God would get me out of this financial disaster I’m in, I will be generous to others.  If God would just do ______, I will know that He is truly God.

We get where Peter’s coming from because we’re right there with him.  Whether it’s fear, suffering, darkness, despair, or maybe even martyrdom, we find ourselves drowning in our sin and crying out “Lord, save me!”

And, He does!  That’s what Matthew is teaching the Jews as they walk through this entire section. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God Himself.  He’s not just a man, but He is our living Lord.

And by His death on the cross, He’s answered our call of distress.  He reaches down into the pit of your despair, into the treachery of our sins and our doubts, with the gift of forgiveness.  Forgiveness spoken to you in His Word through Absolution.  Forgiveness washing over you in His Word through the waters of your baptism.  Forgiveness welling up inside you as a living water, through His Word in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to defeat sin, death, and the devil once and for all.  But even more precisely than that, He then gives that victory, that forgiveness, that life to you through His Word and sacrament.

So when you have doubts, when your faith is twisted in confusion, you can know precisely where to shout, “Lord, save me!”  Right here.  Right here where His promises are proclaimed, and you have His assurance of forgiveness and life.  You can see it, you can hear it, you can touch it, you can even taste it.  Here in this place, we’ve joined with the disciples in seeing Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.  And to Him alone we give our worship and praise.

Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

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Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.