Thursday, November 2, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12 There is a distorted view of Christianity out there right now that says we have every right to expect that God will make us rich and healthy and successful in all we undertake. These false prophets of health and wealth say that this is what it means to be blessed by God.
But truth be told, the vast majority of Christians on earth right now—to say nothing of our fellow Christians who have come before—were not, and are not, rich and healthy and successful. They are poor. They suffer persecution. They are anything but powerful.
And so then, are they not blessed—these saints who have come before us and our fellow saints who endure hardship and suffering? Is their faith somehow insufficient or deficient? Do they just need to pray harder and trust more? Or is the real problem a mistaken view of what it means to be blessed by God? If so, where can we learn the truth? The Bible says that:
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them...
All of us have our own ideas about what it means to be blessed by God. All of us know the kind of blessings we want. The question for us today is, are we willing to put all of those presuppositions aside and let ourselves be taught by Jesus? Are we willing to set aside our preferences and our expectations and let Jesus teach us what a life of God’s blessing is like?
We should, for Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He loves us so much that he has given his life in exchange for ours. If there is anybody that we should listen to when it comes to our life here on earth and the blessings we can expect from God it is Jesus.
So what does Jesus teach about a life that is blessed by God. What does that kind of life look like? Jesus says a life of God’s blessing is a life where our spiritual needs for forgiveness and salvation are met; a life of purpose in which we are called to live as God’s children; a life lived in such close fellowship with Jesus that we too will bear a cross. Jesus said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Everyone in the world understands the necessity of food and drink and clothing and shelter to support this earthly life. Everyone wants material blessings. But for so many people that is as far as their understanding of what life is all about goes.
They are blind to their need for a life with God. They are deaf to his call to come to him and be saved. And so they live their life as if this life is all there is, never really understanding that there is a chasm of sin and guilt and shame that separates them from the only One who can give their life meaning and purpose.
That is why it is such a blessing from God to know—as painful as it is—what our real condition is: poor, hungry, helpless. In this knowledge of our own spiritual poverty and grief over our lost condition- there is the beginning of a new life blessed by God.
That is why Jesus teaches us that those who are poor in spirit and those who mourn and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed by God—because it is there in mourning and poverty and hungering that our spiritual needs are abundantly met by Jesus Christ.
He is the One who pours out upon our poverty the riches of his grace; who satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness with his own holy life and reconciling death; who changes our mourning into rejoicing as he forgives our sins and brings us back into God’s family.
We have nothing to fear by valuing spiritual blessings above material blessings or in putting his kingdom above the kingdom of this world because Jesus promises that those who are meek and humble will not only have their earthly needs met—they will inherit the earth.
It is this promise (that there can be no loss for the child of God) that frees us to live our lives for him, walking in his steps, and making him manifest to others. Jesus said:
“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.
The Bible says that through faith in Jesus Christ we are children and heirs of God—that in Holy Baptism we have been buried and raised with Christ—that we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds. We have been purified by the cleansing blood of Jesus.
This is the change that the Holy Spirit has worked in by bringing us to faith in Christ and that is the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in us right now by conforming us into his image.
Our life as God’s children is not about a list of “do’s and don’ts” –it’s not about fear of punishment if we get something wrong because Jesus has already suffered that for us on the cross. Instead, we are blessed by God to make Jesus known by how we live our lives.
We are merciful to others because Christ has been merciful to us. That word mercy has to do with the powerful acting with kindness. Now you may not think that you are in a position of power—but you are.
That person who waits on you in a restaurant—that person who works for you—that student in your class—that person who is much younger than you or much older than you or much poorer than you—that child in your home or your wife--all of them are in some way less powerful than you as a consumer and a boss and a parent and a teacher and a husband.
In the same way that Jesus used his power to help us—so are we to mercifully serve others. In these relationships and in all our interactions with others we are to be people of peace.
That we have a life with God—that we stand under his blessing-- is only because Jesus Christ has made peace between us and him by his blood shed on the cross and in the same way we are to be people of peace who extend his peace to others.
In all this we are called by the Spirit to live out Christ’s life in our own life in such a meaningful way that those around us can come to know Jesus through us but as we do that we should also understand the hardships that come with living a life like his. Jesus says:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Jesus was merciful, holy, righteous and peaceful. You would think that the world would have welcomed him with open arms. And of course many have. Today we remember and give thanks for all those saints who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior.
But for every one of those who have loved and served Jesus there have been countless more who have rejected him. We cannot forget that Jesus’ holy, righteous, merciful life led to the cross and so it will for all those who walk in his ways.
That is why Jesus says that those who are persecuted and reviled for his sake are actually blessed because these hardships and sufferings reveal (in a way that nothing else can) the truth of their confession: that they are actually God’s people and Jesus’ disciples—saints of God.
And so when we go through some hardship because of our faith—when we are rejected by others because we hold fast to the truth—when others speak ill of us on account of our love for Jesus—we can count these as divine testimonies that we are destined for heaven. Jesus said:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It may seem odd to many people in the world today—and even those in the church who have bought into the false gospel of health and wealth—to hear Jesus teach that mourning and hungering and thirsting and persecution are occasions for rejoicing and gladness but it is only because they do not understand that a life of God’s blessing is (finally and in the end) a life that is connected to Jesus Christ.
And because the servant is not above his Master, how can our lives as Christian people be any different than his? Both in the hardships and difficulties-- but also in the joys!
Jesus’ rejection by his own people and the betrayal of fiends and his death on the cross was not the end of his story and hardship and persecution will not be the end of our story. Yes, Jesus died but he was also raised from the dead and ascended into heaven to take his place with God in glory and beauty and joy that has no end.
So it will be for us! We can be glad for earthy blessings but our hope for the future ought to be directed to what is still to come when we go to be with God and the saints in heaven—a place where there is no suffering or sorrow or separation—but only peace and joy.
We don’t have to worry that in following Jesus as Lord and Savior we are somehow missing out or that it is not worth it. We don’t have to worry when we go through hard times that somehow the blessings of God have left us.
Instead, the hardships of being a disciple of Jesus Christ are a sure sign that we are on the right track—that narrow road that leads to heaven.
Those false prophets in the church who say that a life blessed by God is nothing but health and wealth and earthly success simply cannot account for the millions and millions of Christians who were martyred for their faith—Christian who had to endure a lifetime of suffering—Christians who were weak and despised by the powers of this dark and dying world.
Instead, Jesus tells us that God’s blessing rests upon his saints even when they suffer because they are forgiven by his blood and walk in his ways. What a blessing on All Saints Days to be reminded that a life that is truly blessed by God is a life where our spiritual needs are met; a life filled with the holy purpose of making Christ know to others by how we live; a life that is so close to Jesus that we too are called to carry our cross. Amen.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Romans 3:19-28 The Church exists for one purpose and that is to clearly teach the world the way of salvation: that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And the church of Luther’s day was dead wrong about this one thing that truly matters eternally because they taught that salvation was found not only in Christ—but also in what we do.
On October 31, 1517 Luther posted 95 Theses on the church door at
Wittenberg that challenged this false
doctrine-- and that act of his confessional courage began the Reformation of
the church through the restoration of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Each year on Reformation Sunday we remember with thanksgiving a man who knew the truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and restored that truth to the church-- and we give thanks for our Lutheran Church because it still clearly teaches the one thing needful: that we are right in God’s sight through faith in Jesus. The Bible says:
We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
In the church of Luther’s day—the fundamental truth of God’s Word regarding sin and grace and the way of salvation (the very heart of Christianity)-- had been lost. Monasticism and prayers to the saints and indulgences—as wrong as they were and still are—were only symptoms of something much worse. The real problem went much deeper. People were taught that their works could merit salvation.
God’s Word teaches just the opposite. The Bible says that “every mouth is stopped” by the law—that the “whole world” is accountable to God—and that by the works of the law (that is by what we do) no human being will be justified in God’s sight. Far from leading to salvation as the church of Luther’s day taught—the law leads to our condemnation because it reveals the depth of our sinfulness.
Each Sunday in the Lutheran Church the Law is still preached and taught-- not so that we can justify ourselves by what we do—but so that we can see our great need for a salvation that lies outside of ourselves—a salvation that must be given to us as a gift.
Because the poor righteousness of our best deeds- and the perfect righteousness of God- are so far removed from one another, we cannot bridge that gulf on our own. Someone else must make a way for us to God. Paul writes:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
The “righteousness of God” was a phrase that tormented Luther. He knew that if righteousness like God’s was what was required of him for salvation, he was lost forever. No matter how hard he tried he could never measure up to God’s standard of holiness.
But when he came to this verse about there being a righteousness of God APART from the law--his life was changed! He discovered that the righteousness that God demanded from him in the Law—was also the righteousness that God gave to him as a free gift through faith in Jesus-and he found peace with God.
This Good News was not just something that one lone monk came up with—in fact, it was not a new teaching at all--but it was the teaching of all of Holy Scripture—New Testament and Old. It wasn’t just found in the Pauline epistles, it was found in the law and prophets as well. It is the central message of the Bible.
From the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation, the Bible tells just one story—and that is the story of God’s gracious love for us and desire to save us by giving us his righteousness as a gift. Paul writes that:
There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift,
Just as surely as God’s guilty sentence falls upon us all through the condemnation of the Law-- so also does God’s justification apply to us all through the Gospel.
Now, to justify means to declare someone righteous. And that is what God has done for us. But how did God do that? Did he turn his eyes from our sins? NO! Did he lower his standard for our holiness so that we could meet it by our works? NO!
Instead, HE has fully and finally dealt with our sin in his Son—laying our sins upon his Son. HE has punished his Son in our place. And HE has forgiven us and declared us right in his sight. The Bible says that HE has done that:
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood
We don’t hear that word “propitiation” very much outside of the Bible. In fact, it is not even a very common word in the Bible. It means that the bloody sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross has taken away God’s wrath over our sins. Other English translations say that Christ was put forward as the atoning sacrifice that has brought God and mankind back together. And that’s a good translation too.
But the actual Greek word that we translate as propitiation or atoning sacrifice was the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant where once a year the high priest would take the blood of the sacrifice and lay his hands upon the mercy seat and so atone for the sins of Israel.
No matter how this important biblical word is translated: propitiation, atoning sacrifice, or mercy seat--the picture is the same: that Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the cross was offered up for us and has reconciled us to God.
Paul calls Jesus’ blood our redemption because in the ancient world, that word described the price that would have been paid to set free a slave or prisoner of war.
That’s what God has done for us: the blood of Jesus was the price that was paid to set us free from the condemnation of the law that our sins deserve. It was the perfect offering that removed God’s wrath from us! It was the sacrifice that has reconciled God to us! And it is the reason that God has declared us “not guilty” in Christ!
But it is critically important for us to remember that-- while God has done this for us—the Bible also teaches that Christ’s atoning, forgiving, reconciling work must “be received by faith” by us, personally and individually, if we are to be saved.
Nowhere does the Bible teach that all people will be saved irrespective of faith in Jesus. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite: that while Christ’s sacrifice was for all people, reconciling God to mankind and justifying the world, each person must believe in Jesus and receive that gift in faith if they are to be saved.
And that is why we are so grateful for Martin Luther and the other reformers—it is why we set aside this day to thank God for the Reformation of the church—because there was a time when the Gospel of salvation in Christ had become so obscured by false teaching and false practice that it was nearly impossible for people to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved.
It is only in the preaching of Christ crucified for the sins of the world that people can be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. It is only at the cross that people can come to know God as he truly desires to be known: holy and righteous to be sure—but also merciful and forgiving. Paul says that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:
…was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
And so what does Paul mean when he says that “in his divine forbearance God has passed over the former sins”? After all, God sent the flood- and he destroyed
Sodom and Gomorrah -and he raised up the Egyptians and
Assyrians and Babylonians to chastise his people—terrible temporal punishments
But as terrible as those chastisements were, it is only in the death of the sinless Son of God that we see what our sin deserves from God. When Jesus cried out on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” that was the cry of every sinner separated from God—except that Jesus suffered it for us—in our place—so that we will never be forsaken by God in life or in death.
That dark Good Friday afternoon was the “present time” of which Paul writes when God showed his righteousness: both in his justice—but also in his mercy--for the death of God’s own Son on the cross was not only the fullness of his wrath-- but it was also the fullness of his grace and mercy.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be confident that we are right in God’s sight and innocent of all wrongdoing. What our works could never do in bringing us to God—God has done for us in his Son Jesus Christ—and so there is nothing left but to receive God’s gift of salvation in humble faith and thanksgiving. Paul writes:
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
The Good News for us today on this Reformation Sunday is the same as it was for Martin Luther—that while we cannot work our way to God, God has come to us in his Son Jesus Christ and brought us to himself and made us his children.
As members of the Lutheran Church we are blessed to be a part of that apostolic “we” of Christ and the apostles and the church fathers and the blessed reformers who continue to believe that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. There is no boastful pride in this for us because we know that it is only by God’s grace that we continue to believe the Gospel and proclaim that Gospel to the world.
But knowing the Gospel of Jesus -and having this heritage of the true faith- also lays a responsibility upon our shoulders to do all within our power to make sure that there will always be a church that clearly and courageously proclaims that we are justified by God’s grace and right in Good’s sight through faith in Jesus.
To this holy end, may God keep us steadfast in his Word! Amen.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Ephesians 4:22-28 On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses to the church door at
Wittenberg--ninety-five “points of discussion”
that addressed what he felt was wrong with the church of his day.
The Christian life had fallen into what was essentially an economic transaction—give so much to the church and you could count on forgiveness. All kinds of Christians were appalled by this and so to talk about it in his own community Luther posted 95 discussion points to address what was going on in the church.
The first three theses went like this: 1. When Jesus said "repent" he meant that believers should live a life of repentance 2. Only God can give salvation - not a priest. 3. Inward penitence must be accompanied by a real change in lifestyle.
To make his point, Luther appealed only to the Bible—not to tradition, not to a priestly hierarchy. We see how true this is in our text today which is the biblical foundation for Luther’s first three theses: that the Christian life is one of repentance—that salvation comes from God, not from another person—and that a changed heart results in a changed life. The Bible says:
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self
The first of Luther’s 95 Theses said that the entire life of the Christian consists of repentance. When we hear that word “repentance”, most of us think of contrition or sorrow over sins—that I recognize that I have done wrong, am sorry for it, and confess it for the sin it is. And that is certainly true as far as it goes. In fact…
That’s what Paul is talking about in this first verse or so of our text—that we are to put off our old self, which belongs to our former way of life because it is corrupt and full of deceitful desires. In other words, everything having to do with sin in our life is to be taken off like filthy clothes and cast aside.
And because sin is not just the wrong things we say or do or think- but is as close to us as our own flesh- we will have to put off that old self again and again until we lay it aside in death. We will never be rid of sin in this life but we must strive to put it off every day so that when it comes to sin we can always consider it something in the past rather than a present reality in our lives.
When we hear that the Christian life is one of life-long repentance, this ongoing sorrow over sin, and confession of it, is what we think about—and that is right—but it is still only half the story.
The other half of repentance—the other half of the Christian life—is where we turn to, after we turn away from sin--and what we put on, after we put off the old sinful self. We turn from sin to Christ-- and put on the new self when we put off the old.
In other words, repentance is not just sorrow over our sins (that’s just the first part) it is also faith in Jesus to forgive us our sins. For example…
In our Gospel lesson today, the paralyzed man and his friends came to Jesus in faith—they had a confident trust that the power and compassion of Jesus could help them-- and they were not disappointed. That is what faith is: a confident trust that Jesus will do what he says and give us forgiveness and a new life.
Last week we talked about the identity that we have in Christ and the importance of living as who we are. We heard that the Holy Spirit has made us God’s children and disciples of Christ.
This is the new self that we are to “put on.” We take off the old sinful self and we put on this new identity—this new self that is a child of God and disciple of Christ.
That we believe this and that we can do this (putting off the old and putting on the new) is from beginning to end, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In his second thesis Luther made the point that this life of repentance is not accomplished in us by any priest or ritual but it is the work of God. The bible calls it a renewal in the spirit of our minds and that we are a new creation after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
In the beginning, God created man in his own image (not that they looked like God who is Spirit) but that they reflected his righteousness and holiness. That image of God was lost when man sinned. The righteousness and holiness that they were given at their creation ceased—not only for them but for all their children—us too.
And so every person, by nature, simply by virtue of their birth into the human family, can no longer can be counted as God’s child but as his enemy. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus: you must be born again! In other words, you must be renewed and recreated to be what God intended you to be at the beginning. And just like at the beginning, it is only God who can do that work. And he has!
All of us who have been baptized and brought to faith in Jesus have been born again by water and Spirit. God has chosen to give us new birth so that now the image of God (the true righteousness and holiness of Christ) has been restored in us.
This is what Paul is talking about when he says that we are renewed in the spirit of our mind. We have a new attitude towards sin, hating it and wanting nothing to do with it. We have a new attitude towards those around us, loving them for Christ’s sake and bearing with them patiently. And we have a new attitude towards the way we live, wanting to walk in the ways of Christ. The Bible says:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
In the third of Luther’s 95 Theses he says that our inward repentance (that is our sorrow over sin and our Spirit-worked faith) ought to be plainly visible in how we live our lives. It is a terrible perversion of the Gospel to say that the forgiven sinner can simply return to his former life of sin. Nothing is farther from the truth!
No one should come to Holy Communion this morning is they do not intend to make a complete break with sin. If you are planning to return to a sinful life when you leave the communion rail—stay away—you will receive judgment not blessing.
Instead, our sorrow over sin and our confident trust in Christ’s forgiveness means that our lives will make a complete 180 degree turn from what they were before. Paul gives some concrete examples to illustrate what he is talking about but they are certainly not exhaustive.
First of all, Christians tell the truth. Christians know the One who is the THE truth and so there is no place for falsehood in the Christian life. Very few things are as destructive to our various human relationships as lying--and all people hold liars in contempt. The Bible says that our speech must loving, straightforward, and that we are to be people of our word who can be trusted to tell the truth.
Secondly, the Christian does not live with bitterness and anger in their hearts. The Bible writers recognized that there are situations where anger is the appropriate response. How can we not be angry over injustice and brutality and perversion? They anger God—they anger God’s children.
But we cannot let this anger rule over us. That we do not “let the sun go down on our anger” means that we are quick to be reconciled with those who have angered us so that Satan does not gain the upper hand over us.
And finally, Christians do not steal. They don’t take things from work. They do not fudge on their taxes or expense reports. They give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage. The Christian knows that the way to having their own possessions is work.
Christians (unless profoundly disabled or ill or elderly) do not live on the charity of others—not their families—not their fellow church members—and not the government. They work. They work to support themselves and their families. They work so that the mission of Christ can go forward. And they work so that they have something to share with those in genuine need. Labor- and the necessities of life- go together.
Almost 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the church door at
Wittenberg and the very first words the
Reformation was a call to a life of repentance.
We hear the same thing in God’s Word today: that we are to put off the old life of sin
and put on the righteousness of Christ—that this life of faith can only be
accomplished in us by the work of God the Holy Spirit—and that a heart that has
been changed by Jesus shows up in a changed life. May God grant it to all of us for Jesus’
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Deuteronomy 10:12-22 We are saved by God’s grace alone. That is the central teaching of Holy Scripture- and that is the rallying cry of the Reformation- and that is the confession of our church. Our life with God, from beginning to end, is a gift that he gives.
But God’s people have always struggled with what that means in their day-to-day lives—how to live that out. The problem is not with God and his gracious gifts. The problem is with our flesh that wants to turn grace and forgiveness and God’s saving work on our behalf-- into license and sin and going our own way.
That is what we see in God’s Word today. The people of Israel had been rescued from slavery. Their enemies were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. They possessed the riches of Egypt. They were led into God’s presence.
But there in the sight of God at Sinai they abandoned their Savior God and made an idol and worshiped it in the place of the LORD and committed the worst kinds of sins.
Let me tell you the story of another people—a people who have been rescued from slavery to sin and death, a people whose enemies have been drowned in the waters of holy baptism, a people who possess the eternal riches of forgiveness and life, and yet a people who continue to sin in the sight of their Savior God and show with their lives that there are other things that come before him. We know those people, don’t we?
The words that we have before us today are spoken to all of God’s people, in every place and time (including us here today!) about what it means in our day to day lives, in how we live our lives, that we are the saved people of God. The Bible says:
What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
It is critically important to understanding and applying this text to our lives that we know WHEN these words were spoken.
God’s people had been saved. Their enemies had been destroyed. They had been given riches beyond measure. They had been provided for on their journey and led along the way into the presence of God. All of this was the accomplished facts of salvation history-- and so it is for us. This is what our Savior God has done for his people.
It is in that context of God’s saving work and his gracious gifts that these words are spoken to God’s people so that we might understand what God desires from us—not to earn our salvation—but to live out that identity.
We are to fear the LORD—to stand in awe of him and glorify him and magnify him. We are to walks in his ways—to value and treasure what he says as important and to go in the direction he leads. We are to love him—not because a command can make us love him--but simply because of who he is and what he has done for us. We are to serve him with everything we have, in all we do. And we are to keep his commandments.
And we are to do this for our good—for OUR good. You see dear friends in Christ, God does not need our love. God does not need our obedience. God does not need our service.
He has created us and redeemed us for OUR good --not only with the gift of salvation he gives, but so it is with the life of the saved that he calls us to live—it is for our good because he loves us and knows what will truly bless us because he is our Creator. The Bible says that:
to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
Here is what the Holy Spirit wants you to understand—here is the love that will empower you to fear, love and trust in God above all things and serve him in every way all your days.
The one, true and living God of the universe, the One who is before and after all things, the One who called all things into being by his almighty, powerful word and sustains them in the same way today—that almighty, eternal, righteous, holy God-- loves you.
And he has always loved you- and always known you- and has chosen you in Christ to be his own and has done everything necessary in time and eternity to make it so.
Out of all the wonders of the universe, out of all the mighty works of his hands, out of everything he has done in the past and will do in the days to come, the LORD has set his heart on you.
That was the promise of everlasting love that God made to his ancient people and that is the promise of everlasting love that God makes to you sitting here today and the content of that love and the shape of that love and the source of that love is Jesus.
That was true for God’s ancient people and that is true for us: the promise to come for the Israelites and the promised fulfilled for us. For all of God’s people in every place and time, Jesus is the only reason for us to be counted as those loved by God. And it is that love- and only that love-- which has the power to change us. The Bible says:
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
There is no way to fear love and trust in God above all things-- and there is no way to serve God all our days in all our ways-- until our hearts are changed.
Our lives of faith and obedience and service do not make our place with God and they do not earn our salvation. Our lives of faith and obedience and service do not come first when it comes to having a life with God-- but follow God’s saving work for us-- and come from a change of heart within us.
That is what the Holy Spirit means when he says that we are to “circumcise” our hearts—heartfelt repentance and faith. It is not enough to merely go through the motions with God—to regard our faith and life with God as something external to us—to think that God is pleased with acts that are merely religious—or with people who think that they can make a deal with him.
That is what the Holy Spirit is talking about when he says that God takes no bribes and shows no partiality. Instead, we are to have a genuine change of heart and mind and direction in life and turn away from sins and turn towards our Savior God. Here’s the thing…
We will always see God’s call to live changed lives as a burdensome imposition—always as something that is outside of us--until our hearts are changed through repentance and faith that understands the holiness and righteousness of God to be sure-- but also the greatness of his love for us who do not deserve, and could never earn, his love. The Bible says:
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
The great act of the Lord’s salvation in the Old Testament is the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. They did not deserve it. They could not earn it. They could not do it on their own. They were poor and weak and far from home. All they could do was cry out to the LORD for his mercy. And that is what they received.
So it is for us. What we could not earn, what we did not deserve, what we could never accomplish by our own strength and resources God has done for us in his mercy, sending his Son into this world as our great Redeemer who has purchased our freedom by his own blood and set us free from sin and death.
The story of our life with God is one of love and mercy and grace and forgiveness and so that is to be the story of our life with others, a reflection of our life with God: we love because he first loved us and has shown us that love in his Son. The Bible says:
You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.
I can’t imagine that there is anyone sitting here today who would not have loved to have been there with God’s people as they walked cross the Red Sea on dry land and then to be guided by his presence every step of the way in the wilderness. How could anyone who had seen and heard these things not offer to God their entire lives for all that the LORD had done?
And yet, what they saw and heard pales in comparison to what we see and hear in Jesus Christ. God’s own Son come to die for his people! God’s own Son defeating sin and death and the power of the devil! God’s own Son feeding his people with his own body and blood and God’s own Son leading his people to the Promised Land of heaven!
Our service and our praise and our worship is very little indeed compared to what God has done for us in Jesus and promises to do for us in the days to come. The Bible says;
Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
There is not a person in the world who would have said that this small group desert tribesmen would have ever survived in Egypt. But the Lord was with them and even after centuries of oppression they were hundreds of thousands. Only the LORD could have accomplished that!
Today those hundreds of thousands who knew the LORD as their Savior God are now numbered in the billions and we are part of that multitude through faith in Jesus. That is why we can give ourselves wholeheartedly in the Lord’s service and trust that he stands ready to bless us with his gifts—because he has always done that for his people and always will! Amen.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Ephesians 4:1-6 The title of today’s sermon is “Maintain the Unity of the Spirit”—words taken directly from our text and inspired by the Holy Spirit. They capture the theme of what God is calling us to believe and do in these verses.
But a simpler way to express the same thought is this: God’s guidance on how to “get along” with our fellow Christians.
These words are not quite as holy sounding as the title from God’s Word, they are a little bit blunt, and maybe they take us aback. We hate to think that Christians would ever be at odds with one another or that there would ever be any conflict between Christians. “How can I not get along with fellow believers—they believe in Jesus too?!”
But what about that Christian you are married to—are you always on the same page with your spouse?
What about those Christians who are your children or your parents—do you always see eye-to-eye?
What about those Christians sitting here in the Lord’s house with you today—do they never rub you the wrong way?
The Spirit-inspired words that we have before us today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us down-to-earth, practical advice on how to get along with fellow Christians in our marriage, home, and congregation.
These words tell us that: 1. We are called to unity and peace-filled relationships with fellow believers—2. They tell us how peace and unity is accomplished through Christ-like lives—3. and they tell us that unified and peace-filled relationships with fellow Christians are a reflection of the deepest truths of the Gospel.
St. Paul wrote:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
The reason for many of the struggles we have in our Christian lives (including getting along with our fellow Christians in our marriages, homes, and congregation) is that we do not give sufficient attention and importance to our identity in Christ—what Paul labels our “calling”. And so, what is our Christian identity or calling?
By virtue of our baptism into Christ we are called: God’s children: we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ—we have been reconciled to our heavenly Father and filled with the Spirit-- and are called to walk in newness of life—in other words: to live out that identity by taking up our cross and walking in Jesus’ footsteps of love and sacrifice for others as his disciples.
Children of God and disciples of Christ—this is who we are—not who we would like to be—not what we have to strive to be—this is who we are. And our lives—what
calls our “walk” should correspond to that identity and calling. But that’s not always the case, is it?
There have been times over the course of my ministry when I have been asked to mediate a conflict between two Christians and when all else fails I will tell them: “Let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that we are Christians, what would a follower of Jesus do and say in this situation?”
And that always gets their attention. “I don’t have to pretend I am a Christian! I am a Christian!” “Wonderful!” I say, “How then should a child of God and disciple of Christ act in this situation”? “Oh”!
When we get caught up in conflict with another Christian—whether in our family or marriage or congregation—often times it’s because we have forgotten the high calling of being children of God and disciples of Christ.
The content of that calling is Jesus and it is his life that is to be shown in our lives—in other words, that we are to live, as the Bible says, in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love just like Jesus did.
Now, I want you to think about the last conflict you had with a fellow Christian—the last argument or disagreement—the last time there were hard feelings between you and a fellow believer-- whether in your marriage or family of congregation.
Just for a moment forget about that other person and what a stinker they are and ask yourself: “Was I humble—did I count that person more important than myself? Was I gentle- or was I ready to give as good as I got? Was I willing to bear with that person—in other words, was I willing to put up with that person -or was I quick feel put upon?”
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that often times we don’t get along with other Christians in our marriages, homes, and congregation—not because they are such stinkers—but because we are not the humble, gentle, patient, loving children of God and disciples of Christ that we are called to be.
There is one more piece to this when it comes to our attitude towards other Christians that especially applies to times of conflict. The Bible says that we are to be EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And so let me ask you a question: Are you EAGER to live at peace with your fellow Christians?
All of us are tempted to say “yes” to that question. “Of course, I am willing to live at peace with them!” But are we really?
You see, being united to, and living at peace with, fellow Christians is much, much more than avoiding those Christians that we don’t particularly like in our congregation. It is much, much more than the simmering “cease-fire” we reach with our children or parents. It is much, much more than the “let’s just try to make the best of this” attitude that couples often fall into in their marriage.
That we are EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace means that no matter what that other person does, WE will take the initiative when it comes to making things right. It means that no matter how that other person acts, WE will be the ones who are humble and gentle and patient and willing to go the extra mile.
And we will do that because that is who we are as Christians and that kind of life shows the deep truths of our Christian faith. The Bible says that:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
For all of us, there are times in our lives when we do not live in peace and unity with our fellow Christians-times in our lives when we are not the humble, gentle, peaceful, long-suffering people that we ought to be.
What a blessing to know that Jesus Christ never failed to live this kind of life and through faith in him his holy life is counted as our own!
The Bible says that Jesus’ cross has removed the diving wall of hostility—not just between our sin and God’s wrath—but has removed the dividing wall of hostility between us and others—that he has done this to unite us to himself along with all those who share the same faith and hope that we have in him.
Because of Jesus’ forgiving life, death and resurrection: God is our Father- and heaven is our home -and we are filled with the Spirit right now. AND SO THEN…
We cannot say to our fellow Christians “I want nothing to do with you”-- because they are members along with us in the one body of Christ.
We cannot think the worst of our fellow Christians-- because they are filled with the same Spirit as we are and he is at work in their lives too.
We cannot withhold our love from our fellow Christians-- because our heavenly Father loves them and sent his Son to die for them too to make them members of his family just as we are.
Whatever the differences might be that we have with our fellow Christians, what are those differences compared to what we share in common?
We confess the same faith on Sunday mornings in the words of the creeds. We have been washed in the same baptismal water and fed with the same body and blood. And we confess the same Jesus to be our Savior and Lord.
When we elevate (what are really minor) grievances and aggravations into divisions and bitterness, we deny the profound gifts we share together with our fellow Christians.
Today we hear God’s call to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”—in other words, to “get along” with our fellow Christians.
We are reminded that we are God’s children and Jesus’ disciples and that because this is our identity we are called to live Christ-like lives.
And that as we do so, we are showing the deep truths of our Christian faith: that God loves us and has brought us to himself to live with him and our fellow Christians forever.
May our peaceful, united lives with other believers always reflect this wonderful, saving Good News! Amen.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Luke 7:11-19 I am certain that there is not one person sitting here today who likes the idea that one of these days we are all going to die. The fact of the matter is we find it appalling—and well we should! The Bible says that death is an enemy.
God created man and gave us life. He made man in his image and intended that, like him, we would live forever. And so our whole being rebels against the idea that we will die because we were made for life.
But sin came into the world through man’s disobedience and along with sin came death and so now all men die. All! Death is no respecter of persons. No matter our skin color. No matter our socio-economic status. No matter our gender. No matter our age. We will die and so will those we love.
It is here especially—in the death of our loved ones—that the horror of death has its full, terrifying effect on our hearts. How fervently we pray for God to protect our children! How devoutly we pray for our loved ones serving in the military. How earnestly we pray for family members who are ill--that they all would be spared!
That we feel this way about our own mortality- and that we feel this way about our loved ones dying--is not a sign of a lack of faith. The fact of the matter is: God feels the same way about death! Death is such a terrible enemy that his Son Jesus Christ came into this world to do something about it.
Jesus also experienced the terror of death: the death of loved ones like Lazarus—and his own death on the cross. But what we see throughout the Gospels is that in the presence of Jesus, death has to give way to life. The Bible says that:
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.
Most of us go for many years experiencing nothing but God’s blessings but then some tragedy strikes and we are reminded that life is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. We just see it more clearly when we face a tragedy like the widow of Nain. That poor woman—long before the death of her son—already knew about heartache: she lost her husband.
In these events we are reminded that there will come a day of parting for us and our beloved—when that one who is as close to us as our own flesh is parted from us by death—and we know how painful that will be.
That is what that poor widow had already gone through—but even then, with that painful loss, she was not finished walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Her only son died.
To lose a child is the worst pain a human being can endure. All of us who are parents can imagine what she was going through-- but what not may be immediately apparent to us is what this death meant for her own life as a childless widow. As heart-broken as she was over the death of her son, somewhere in the back of her mind she was already wondering to herself: how in the world am I going to live?
That was the burden that weighed upon her as she walked behind her son’s body in that procession of death—until she met the Lord of Life who took that burden upon himself. The Bible says that: “…when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her
This is the first place in his Gospel that St. Luke, as the narrator of these events, addresses Jesus as Lord—the mighty covenant God who has the power and the authority to change even death.
And not only did Jesus have the power to do so, he was moved with compassion to do so—his heart went out to this poor, sad widow in an obscure town.
Jesus’ attitude of love and concern for those without much earthly power must have really made an impression on St. Luke, because he tells us story after story in his Gospel about Jesus reaching out to help those who the rest of society regards as having little value-- and we see that same thing here.
From the world’s perspective, one, poor widow in an obscure town doesn’t matter much—but the Lord counted her worthy of his help. So too for us. There is no hardship or difficulty that you are facing right now that is unknown to the Lord or beyond his help. He cares for you and wants to ease your burdens just like he did that day.
Compassion and power were perfectly joined together in Jesus and that’s what makes such a life-changing difference in the lives of those the Lord touches. He told the widow “Do not weep.”
If we didn’t know how all this would turn out—if we were simply part of the crowd that day-- we could appreciate Jesus’ word as simply a kind gesture—but one that was ultimately empty-- because it couldn’t change anything.
But when the Lord “Do not weep” he means it! Do not weep-- for there is no reason for tears in the presence of the Giver of life! The Bible says:
Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And Jesus said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up and began to speak.
Life- from- death! Just- like- that! And what is even more stunning than the dead man being raised-- is how it was accomplished—simply by a word—spoken by the One who brought all things into being by his Word.
What we see here is that the Lord is not some impersonal force far removed from our lives. Instead, he is the living Word of God who took upon himself our flesh and was moved by compassion at what we have done to ourselves by our sins to reach out and help. That day at Nain, in the presence of Jesus—at his word—death gave way to life.
The funeral scene that we have before us today gets our attention and resonates with us because it is so familiar. 1. We’ve been part of that group of mourners—grieving over a loved one 2. We can identify with that poor mother—wondering what the future holds for us 3. We know that we too will one day be carried to our grave.
There was absolutely nothing that anyone there that day could have done to change what happened—there were no tears of grief that the mother could have shed which would have brought life back to her dead son. There was no show of support from the friends powerful enough to change tragedy into triumph. There was certainly nothing the dead man could do to help himself.
But Jesus could—and did—and at Jesus’ Word the man was restored to life.
Through this miracle, Jesus wants us to believe that there is now something greater than sorrow and death in this world. He wants us to recognize that he has entered into our sorrow and death and his life changes everything for us—even death.
When Jesus touched the stretcher of the dead man that day he should have become ceremonially unclean. But just the opposite happened—Jesus’ wholeness and cleanness and life came to rest upon the man. And the Good News for us today is that what he did for that one man—he has done for you and for me.
Jesus took all of the uncleanness and sin and death that is a part of our lives and carried it to the cross where it was washed away in his shed blood. Three days later he rose up from the dead, promising us that we too will rise from death. And that promise that he speaks to us again and again in Word and Sacrament continues to bring life in the midst of death.
Each of us, by nature, is like that dead young man on the stretcher—we are helpless to change anything about our spiritual condition on our own—but when the words of Jesus are spoken to us in Baptism and Preaching and Absolution and Holy Communion--death is transformed into real, abundant life that only God can give--just like he gave that day. The Bible says that: Jesus gave him to his mother.
Too often, we hesitate to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord because we don’t know what the Lord will ask of us and we’re afraid to follow him. But Jesus tells us that it is the devil who comes to kill and steal and destroy --while Jesus has come to give life—rich abundant life—a full measure pressed down and overflowing.
That’s what we see here. The community was given their friend. The widow was given her son. And the young man was given his life. And none of their lives would ever be the same. The Bible says that:
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!" And this report about him spread through the whole of
Judea and all the surrounding country.
The Good News for us today is that God has visited his people in his Son Jesus Christ and in his compassion and power has given us a new life that is just as real and just as life-changing as what occurred that day that day for the widow and her son.
The dark shadow of sin and death has been driven from our life by the cross and empty tomb. And Jesus invites us to take our place along side of him, glorifying God by speaking to others his words of hope and faith that give life. Amen.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Matthew 6:24-34 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
When it comes to the relationship between us and God and money, it really is a matter of priorities—of what comes first in our hearts. Only one can hold that first place in our life that is reserved for the one that we call God. It can be either money or God at the center of our life but it cannot be both. We cannot serve two masters—we cannot serve God and money.
We know what the world has chosen. Our nation’s financial life is an exercise in wretched, sinful excess. Young women are cultural icons for having purses that cost tens of thousands of dollars. CEO’s get paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year for bankrupting their companies. The average Joe charges on their credit cards like there was no tomorrow and when their limits are reached they use the equity in their homes like it is a piggy bank to fund more financial foolishness.
Of course they hang their head in their hands for the god of Mammon that has ruled their lives has been shown for what he is—a powerless idol—unworthy of their devotion and trust.
But what about us? Do the Lord’s words apply only to others? The truth of the matter, is that Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters, really applies to us more than it does to the unbelieving world. The world serves only one God—the false god of Mammon. We Christians are the ones who try to have it both ways.
If we have given even a bit of our confidence in the future and our heart’s peace and our security over to our job or our bank or our 401K and IRA—we should be convicted by Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters—for we have ceased to love and serve and trust in God above ALL things and we must confess that sin as idolatry, repent of it, and be done with it.
Jesus assures us today that our heart’s peace about the future need not be found in what we can hold in our hand-- but is to be found only in a heavenly Father who graciously and generously provides for his children. Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
The answer that Jesus is looking for is: YES it is! Life is more, much more, than food and clothing and the point that he is making is this: Since God has given us our life won’t he just as certainly give us the smaller gifts we need to preserve that life?!
Absolutely! That we are living and breathing at this moment is a sure sign that God has given us our life; provided for that life up to now; and will provide for that life in the days to come. Of course, this way of thinking is only a comfort to those who know God as the Giver of life in the first place.
Those who believe that their very existence is merely the last event in a chain of haphazard, random of events over billions of years that could have just as easily happened otherwise-- take no comfort from knowing that God will provide the necessities of life because they don’t know the God who gave them life-- and they live in fear of a cosmos that seemingly acts without mercy or meaning.
But we who believe in a loving heavenly Father do take great comfort in knowing (from all that we see around us and from our own life’s experience) that God does indeed provide for his children. The Creator who has given us our life-- promises to provide for that life-- and reveals the truth of that promise in the created world. Jesus says:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you,
These words were not spoken in the synagogue or temple—not in a disciple’s home—but in the great outdoors—and Jesus invited all who are listening to simply open our eyes and look at the world around us.
The birds were flying from place to place without a care in the world, gathering what they needed, building their nests, feeding their little ones without the benefit of all those things that we think are a necessity if we are to be fed.
Jesus mentions harvesting and reaping and barns and plows. Maybe today he would say checking accounts and contracts. But the message is the same: the littlest creature that wouldn’t catch our eye is seen, loved, and provided for by God.
And if God will do that for birds, won’t he do the same for his children? Of course he will! We are infinitely more valuable in God’s sight than birds. The One who feeds us with the Body and Blood of his Son in Holy Communion to sustain our spiritual life will certainly give us the food we need for this earthly life!
As further proof of the Father’s provision, Jesus directs his disciples to the beauty of the flowers of the field. There has never been an item of clothing—no matter how costly—that could compare in beauty to a plain ole Texas roadside covered in wildflowers. It takes your breath away every time you see it!
And so here’s the question: If God is willing to go to all that trouble for a bunch of plants on the side of a road that only last for a few weeks out of the year, won’t he also provide us with the clothes that we need?
Of course he will! We are God’s children and he has made us for eternity. The One who has provided us the robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism will certainly give us what we need to clothe our bodies and preserve our earthly life.
Besides directing our attention to our own life and the life around us as sure signs of God’s provision, Jesus also warns us about the futility and sinful foolishness of worrying about our earthly needs. He says: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
And of course, the answer is: none of us! There is not one blessed thing that can be changed by worrying about our life—not one—besides the fact that the vast, vast majority of things we worry about never come to pass in the first place.
Jesus’ judgment on our anxieties and worries and on our fussing and fretting about material things is that, not only is it fruitless—it is faithless. He says: O you of little faith!
Now, you may be saying to yourselves that Jesus’ teaching about not serving money and watching birds and flowers seems a bit irresponsible. Jesus’ teaching about not worrying seems a bit impossible. But of course the problem was not with the Lord or his words—it was with us—with our lack of faith.
That is why Jesus speaks to us today about the place and role of money and material things in our lives and he lays a rock-solid foundation upon which we are to build our faith: his promise that we have a heavenly Father who will provide for us just as surely as he provides for all creation—in fact, even more assuredly for we are his children. Jesus says:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
The unbelieving world has no choice but to seek after money and they cannot help but worry—for they do not know what we know: that we have a heavenly Father who knows just exactly what we need and promises to meet those needs.
God’s eyes are constantly turned towards us and he is constantly looking out for our best interests and so we are free to put aside concerns about material things and put first things first. Jesus says:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Jesus wants us to understand tonight that a life spent acquiring the things of the world—a life spent living by the values of the world—a life spent worrying-- is a life that is wasted for time and eternity.
Instead, the Lord gives a different kind of life—a life as his child in his kingdom. Jesus was sent into this world for that very purpose—to give his life as a ransom to set us free from a life that is empty of meaning because it is focused only on material things which never last.
His death on the cross earned the forgiveness we need for all those times that we have had divided hearts and for all those times we have failed to trust him as we ought. And his resurrection is God’s guarantee that even death cannot rob us of those things that truly, eternally matter.
Today we give thanks to God, our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son for all his blessings and tender mercies and we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to trust him more deeply in the days to come. Amen.