Trinity 16 September 24, 2023 Luke 7:11-17 Death and Crying V.13 And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Dear friends in Christ, sadly tragic deaths abound. Here are some news headlines from just this past week: “Soap star Billy Miller dead at 43,” “A Young Indian student dead,” “Investigation into 13 year old bully victim’s tragic death,” “Man crushed to death by thousands of cheese wheels (UK),” “14 year old girl dies at private sports camp,” and the list could go on and on and on. Behind each of these stories is a person who died what we would call an “untimely” death, therefore making it very tragic. Each death leaves behind many people, both family and friends, broken at their sudden loss–given to deep grief and sorrow. They remind us, quite emphatically, of the Scriptural truth (1 Cor. 15:26), that “The Last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death is indeed an enemy. Such is the case in our Gospel text today as Jesus comes upon a very sad situation just outside the tiny village of Nain. A young man, the only son of his mother who was a widow, has died. He is being carried in a great funeral procession to the burial grounds. She is weeping–wailing in great lament and sorrow–such is her terrible grief at the death of her only son. The crowd weeps with her at this tragic circumstance. 2 Indeed, death is usually accompanied by tears. For death brings separation–death brings heartache–death brings sorrow and loneliness and a host of other evils into our lives. Death and crying appear to go hand in hand. Though we sometimes talk about and treat death as a “friend”--one that ends suffering and pain–yet this is a subtle lie of the devil. For the Scriptures declare that death is the aberration of God’s good creation that He intended for life with Him. After all, what did God say to Adam and Eve after He created them? Genesis 1:28 declares, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’…” It was SIN that would bring death and mar God’s wonderful work, as He warned Adam in Genesis 2:16, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” And when we stop to really think about it, we can see that death is actually the great enemy and no friend whatsoever. For, if we had the choice, would we not rather have our deceased friends and family members back with us, hearty and whole, free of pain and suffering, alive and well, rather than dead and gone and separated from us? Would we not rather have our grandparents, parents, friends, spouses, and children back with us? Of course we would! So, while death can end suffering in this broken world, yet it remains the great enemy. Else, why would we 3 cry, even when it is a supposedly “good” death by all metrics? One that has ended suffering? One that we would not even consider “tragic?” Yet, still we cry. For death hurts. Again, the widow at Nain serves as a great example of the pain caused by death. Her son’s death was certainly a tragedy. Without her husband who had previously died, she is now bereft of her only means of support in the ancient world–her only son. Not only that–he was her child–her baby!--and as callous as we sometimes are toward death–most people agree that no parent should have to outlive their children–that this is a particularly painful evil to endure. Yet, where Jesus walks life abounds! Upon taking in this incredibly painful and difficult situation, our Lord acts. His compassion is stirred–His insides are roiling at the injustice of death–the pain it causes–the heartbreak it produces in His people whom He created for life and joy! He approaches the widow who is weeping and wailing in deepest grief and despair and He simply says, “Do not weep.” While she no doubt blinks in surprise at this seemingly absurd statement (for who more than her would have a right to weep at such a time?!), Jesus calmly walks over to the litter bearing her dead son and then speaks, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the young man got up and began to speak, proving he was alive again, and Jesus gave him to his mother incredible! Unbelievable! Miraculous! Indeed. Yet this is precisely what Jesus has come to do, beloved. He has come to bring an end to death. Not just for the widow’s son, but for us all. His deep compassion toward us moved Him to take on our flesh and to suffer death for us, so that by rising again He could destroy death by destroying its power–sin. As Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:56, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” As sinners who have broken God’s Law, death is the natural consequence, as God first warned Adam. For “the wages of sin is death.” Yet here in Luke’s Gospel, we see the inbreaking of Jesus’ power over sin, death, and the grave. For now, as Christ has risen from the dead, so too shall this ancient saying come true (1 Cor. 54b-55), “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Indeed, with a word the living God made flesh speaks and undoes death–breaks its hold–as easily as one would wake a sleeping child! This is why Christians now cry differently when death occurs. We don’t weep and wail as those with no hope. As St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:13), “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep [dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Do we Christians grieve–yes! Do we mourn–of course! Do we cry–undoubtedly! But NOT as those 5 who have no hope. For our God has died and risen again and He promises life to all who believe in Him. You may recall those beautiful words that Jesus spoke to Martha just before He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead (John 11:25-26), “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” These words are so special and profound that they are now ensconced in our funeral liturgy. For these words remind us that those who die believing in Jesus still live–and will live forever and fully on the Last Day when Christ returns to raise the dead unto eternal life with Him. You have this promise sealed unto you in your Baptism, dear friends. For Paul writes in Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with Him [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” These words also form a part of our funeral liturgy. And well that they do! For they remind us that in Baptism we put on Christ and His righteousness. We have been washed clean of all sin–for in Baptism Jesus’ death for sin on the cross has become ours–and so has His resurrection from the dead! God be praised! All who believe and are baptized shall be saved! 6 This is true for you and me and all who believe. Jesus’ resurrection means our final end will not be one composed of suffering and death, but rather joy and life. For as St. John declares in his final revelation (Rev. 21:4), God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is His sure and certain promise to you and me and all people. Our Lord God is the Lord of life! Death has no dominion over Him nor upon any whom He has claimed as His own dear children and heirs. Your Baptism confirms you belong to Him. So, you need not fear death as your great enemy. It has been soundly defeated by your Lord Jesus for you. For your “God has visited His people!” He has visited you in mercy via His Word and Sacrament to give you His peace, joy, and life through the forgiveness of all of your sins that He earned with His own suffering and death on the cross. Death and crying may go hand in hand for now, but there will come a day–the Last Day when our Lord Jesus returns–when death will be forever undone and all weeping will cease, to be forever replaced with joy and laughter. You have His Word on it. And His Word to you is, “I say to you, arise.” Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 15 September 17, 2023 Matthew 6:24-34 Anxious! Who…Me? v.25 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? Dear friends in Christ, today's Gospel reading focuses on a very important theme that each of us deals with on a daily basis--anxiety…worry. Now, I’m not talking about clinical anxiety, which is often caused by an imbalance of chemicals in our brain that needs to be adjusted with due medical attention and care. Nor the kind of debilitating anxiety and depression that requires proper psychological care. But rather, that kind of worry and anxiety that is commonplace to us all. That which niggles in the back of our minds, perhaps causing sleepless nights or indigestion. Our text occurs as Jesus' great Sermon on the Mount is winding down. He talked about prayer and how we are to use God's good gifts wisely in service to Him and His kingdom. What is the major source of worry for most people? Well, as in Jesus' day, so today--money. But herein Jesus warns us that we cannot have two masters--we cannot serve both God and money. Only one master may rule our heart and it must be the Lord. Yet, due to the weakness of our sinful flesh, we pursue money and wealth and power so as to secure for ourselves the necessities of 2 life and a comfortable future. We worry about these things--constantly anxious--and for this, Jesus calls us to repent. For by anxiously worrying about our future and life, we betray that our hearts are not set on God--that we are not trusting in Him to provide for us in all situations--that we seek to be in control and secure life for ourselves. This is a fruitless task, Jesus says, and then directs our attention to common things: birds and flowers. Lowly creations of God, indeed. Birds are a dime a dozen, as it were, and flowers, well they grow in wild abundance. Now birds don't plan for the future. They don't sow crops and reap a harvest or store their food in barns, but God feeds them. Furthermore, look at the wondrous beauty of the Lilies. They clothe the grass in gorgeous raiment--outshining even King Solomon in all of his splendour and majesty. Yet, the grass is here today and gone tomorrow. Now, ask yourselves, are you not of more value than a bird or flower? Of course you are! Then why do you worry? You cannot add a single hour to your span of life through your worry, so what is the point? Our anxiety over our everyday lives is an indication of our lack of faith and trust in our heavenly Father to provide for us in all things. Just note how so many people are worried about the end of the world (be it through the collapse of the environment or the “wrong” political entity taking 3 power). Yet, I have one suggestion for those so intent on trying to determine when/how the end of the world will occur. Don't. Read your Bible. Jesus says no one knows the Day nor the Hour of the End. No one. That's it. Leave it. Really, if we want something to worry about, there is no shortage of real problems: continuing war in Ukraine with Russia; natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires; health of family and friends; and even the faith of our children and grandchildren. We desire peace, security, food, drink, clothing, and shelter--the basic necessities of life and so much more. Yet our Lord says, "the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Now these things are important. Indeed, we pray for them in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Without food, drink, and clothing we die--and rather quickly. This is why it is so important for us to support aid organizations to help people who are in need of these items, like hurricane and wild fire victims. Nor is Jesus saying, "Don't get a job…or don't go grocery shopping or clothes shopping." No. What Jesus is telling us here is to be aware of these cares/concerns for life turning into unwholesome anxiety when we imagine that we can secure our future by our worry. That is just silly and dumb. "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" 4 You need not worry because God your Father knows your needs better than you do! He promises to care and provide for you. To be sure, not all of your desires will come true. For God will answer your prayers in accordance with His wisdom and grace. True peace, true contentment, not being anxious for tomorrow, comes by seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. For God has come to you in Christ Jesus. He is the necessity of your life. By His blood shed on the cross in your place for your sins, God has secured for you a life that is everlasting. Jesus is your past, present, and future. In Him you are secure. For His life was given up into death to give you life. Jesus' cross frees you from anxiety and the burdens and cares of this life. As St. Paul writes, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" God, in Christ, is for you. He promises to be with you and to provide for you. Indeed, the Lord God feeds you with the holy and precious body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. This gift comes to you in simple bread and wine that you receive with joy and thanksgiving. This holy meal provides a life for you that is eternal, with a joy that will know no end. You are fed the richness of God's mercies in Christ each time you humbly come before this altar and every time you hear His blessed Word of Absolution proclaimed into your 5 ears. For you know that here and now, God's kingdom has come to you. A kingdom of peace, love, and joy. A kingdom of fulfillment in the presence of God Almighty. Lest you be concerned about what you wear, God has clothed you in the robe of the righteousness of His own beloved Son. At your Baptism, the Lord God washed you clean of your sin and then covered you in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. A righteousness earned by His sacrifice on the cross. All the saints wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. This robe covers your iniquity, your guilt, and your shame and takes it all away, leaving you pure and spotless like the Lamb who died for you. So, beloved, having been fed and clothed by the Lord, in His kingdom of grace, you need not be anxious about anything. You are being cared for by the Lord God Almighty who has brought you into His family as His dear children. Trusting in the words and promises of Jesus, you may now rejoice in all of God's gifts to you, knowing that you are forgiven, redeemed, and that you have a life that will never end--due to a righteousness that is not your own. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen
Trinity 14 September 10, 2023
v.13 [They] lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
Dear friends in Christ, we have before us this morning a beautiful account of the merciful heart of our God in action. Our God who looks upon us—sinners all—unclean, filthy, dirty souls—people who by their sinful nature relish in the works of the flesh as St. Paul states in our epistle (Gal. 5): "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these"—people who deserve nothing but His wrath—and instead, our Lord opens His mouth and utters words of mercy, healing, forgiveness, and life.
Indeed, the ten leprous men in our Gospel text serve as a golden example of the merciful heart of Jesus at work. Their malady served to separate them from friends and family—even from the worship life of the church. They were forced to live apart from others (so as not to infect them), and so scratched out a meager existence living off the charity of those around them. Their life is bleak—dark—and full of despair—as they await their inevitable death, while slowly their very flesh rots off their bodies.
Beloved, on account of our sin, we are in an even more perilous situation than these ten men. Left to our own devices our sinful flesh would rule over us and lead us to practice open rebellion against God and His good Word, as Paul mentioned above. This sin has separated us from our loving God and further separates us from one another as we sin against each other daily in thought, word, and deed. The source of our sin is the very depths of our heart—the corruption of our being—having been passed down from our first parents, Adam and Eve, all the way to us. We are the walking dead, much like the lepers in our text. Apart from Christ, all people will end up in misery and death.
Yet, where Christ walks, hope remains! These ten desperate men, having somehow managed to hear of Jesus, learn that He is traveling nearby and go to meet Him. They cannot get too close, and so they cry out from a distance, with voices raw and scratchy, not much more than a loud whisper, due to the nature of their affliction, and they utter a most pitiable cry, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" And our Lord and Saviour looks upon them not with disgust—nor anger or disdain—but with love and mercy. "When He saw them He said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went they were cleansed."
The Living Word of God made flesh speaks, and men are healed. Not immediately, this time. Not with a brilliant flash of light and a puff of smoke. But, "as they went they were cleansed." Following Jesus' word to go and show themselves to the priest, they walk away. At first nothing happens, and they wonder if they have been duped by some trickster, false healer. But, soon, as they go, their skin changes from its former rottenness, to a restored and cleansed state. This happens not just to one or two, but to all ten! Their joy and excitement must have been profound. Perhaps, they picked up the pace and began, not to walk, but run, to the priests to receive the pronouncement that they have been cured and can return back to their families.
However, at this point, one of the ten begins to slow—even as his companions continue on, running, joking, and laughing—this one slows and stops. He turns around and begins to run in the opposite direction! He runs back to Jesus! He runs back to Jesus and with his newly healed voice he is singing praises to God for this great miracle. He falls "on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks." And what makes this even more extraordinary, is that this man was no Jew–no faithful child of Abraham. Rather, he was a Samaritan—a traditional enemy of the Jews. A man whose community struggled with false worship and false gods and so was ridiculed by the Jewish community. Yet it is this man, and not the other nine, who turns back to give thanks to Jesus. A foreigner worships Jesus and receives an even greater miracle from the lips of our Lord than the healing of his flesh—"Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you."
I know some English translations read "your faith has made you well." But the Greek word here more accurately means "to save." His faith and trust in Jesus has done much more than just cleanse him of his leprosy, but has saved him from sin, death, and hell. This saving work of Jesus is for all people, too. Not just those inside our small fellowship of faith, but for everyone outside these walls, the whole world over. For the Christ came to save all people—you and me included—but not only you and me. Jesus' blood cleanses all people from sin—just as all ten were cleansed—so the blood of Jesus has been poured out for all people—no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe. However, only those who have faith in Jesus are truly saved. Only those who worship and trust in the one true God—as did the Samaritan—as do you and I and other Christians—are truly saved. For it is by faith that you are saved—and faith in Christ alone.
This Jesus speaks to you in mercy every time we gather for worship. He has spoken His absolution to you—rooted and grounded in your Baptism into His triune name—He has forgiven you all your sin. For this same Jesus went to the cross to pay for your sin and death with His own suffering and death. Our text this morning takes place as Jesus is on His final journey to Jerusalem where He will suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. Note, once again, Christ came to suffer and die for all people! Yet, it is only those who cling to Him in faith who will be saved.
You have been granted such faith through your Baptism, by His grace and mercy. The Holy Spirit continues to strengthen your faith each time you open His Word and trust in His promises. Your faith is nourished and sustained each week as you come before the altar and have placed into your mouths simple bread and wine that is Christ's own body and blood—given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sin. Though you still struggle against the works of the flesh at work in you, yet you now enjoy the fruit of the Spirit who has been given to you. You receive and bear fruit in keeping with your faith (Gal. 5): "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…[for] those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
Indeed, Jesus' crucifixion is your crucifixion. You live now by faith in the Son of God who shed His blood for you and cleansed you of all sin. You cannot help now but to bear fruit in keeping with repentance—for the Spirit of Jesus lives in you and you in Him. What joy! What peace! What steadfast love and faithfulness! Is it any wonder that we, the church, continue to sing that same cry uttered by those ten leprous men 2000 years ago? Kyrie Eleison! Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! And He does—for Jesus' sake. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 12 August 27, 2023
God’s Will SHALL Be Done
V.20 For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off…
Dear friends in Christ, this text from Isaiah serves to give hope to Christians in difficult times–facing difficult circumstances–particularly, times of distress in this world that make it challenging to be a Christian and live the Christian life. For herein Isaiah prophesies that there will be a Day when the pain, the trials, the sufferings, the ridicule, and the mockery endured by Christians will be reversed–done away with–forever! That God’s will SHALL be done–even when it seems as though there is currently little hope of that ever happening.
Indeed, the faithful few of God’s people living in Judea were surrounded by unbelievers–among their own fellow Jews! People who mocked them for holding fast to God’s Word–for proclaiming it as truth–for believing that God was real and true to His Word. They also faced the harassment of unbelievers from other nations–Samaria to the north, not to mention Syria and Assyria and Egypt. God reacted strongly against this kind of faithlessness, as we see in v.16 just before our text, “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say to its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”
Indeed, we often feel like we live in an upside down world, don’t we? People run heedlessly from the Word and counsel of God–even supposed Christians!--claiming that God and His Word has no real place in our modern society in which we know so much better than the Lord God. In our sinfulness and rebellion against Him, we are often wont to pretend that we are the makers of our own destiny–that He did not make us–and so has no control over us or any say in how we live our lives. When we examine His Word, we are at times quick to think, “God has no understanding on this matter”–I know better. I see more clearly. I understand what is right and true and good better than the Lord.
And when we DO look to God and His Word–when we DO proclaim it faithfully–what tends to happen, beloved? We often get trampled upon–mocked–persecuted–scoffed at–ignored, even though we are in the right.
Yet the Lord says through Isaiah that the Day is coming when all of that will change. The Day of God’s visitation in Jesus Christ changes everything. For He has come to undo the wisdom of the wise, break the strength of the strong–humble all those who reject Him and His Word. For earthly wisdom and strength avail a person nothing before God, as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
But for all those who receive Jesus and His Word by faith–believe in Him by God’s grace–shall be exalted! A great reversal shall come to pass. The seemingly impossible will occur–by God’s great power and might. As Isaiah foretold, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.”
Just think about that, beloved! The deaf shall hear? The blind shall see? The meek shall receive joy? And the poor shall exult in God? Why? How? Because of Jesus. Because of Jesus and His triumphant Word and work. For in Christ all things change. He brings light and life to all who believe on His name. For His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
We see this very inbreaking of God made flesh in Jesus’ public ministry. He who made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak and sing! Jesus, the living Word of God, came with power and great might to undo the works of sin and the devil–to forever break the power of death and its hold over humanity. Jesus came to take all of our sin–all of our shame–all of our humiliation and degradation–and crucify it on Calvary’s cross in His own humble flesh. Suffering and dying for it all in our place.
This great love of God made manifest for us in Christ Jesus–that which is proclaimed in His Holy Word–is the power of God to open our ears to the joy of His Gospel salvation–to open our eyes to the truth and light of His Word–to bring our hearts steadfastness and contentment in all that He has done for us.
Yet, you know beloved, you know that there are many who stubbornly reject Jesus and His Word. There are those who believe that they are so smart and wise and strong that they can do what they want–believe what they want–and bully others to fall in line with their twisted and evil thinking. They scoff at Christians who believe in a simple six day creation account. They grow indignant with us when we object to medical experimentation, procedures, and therapies that would leave children sterilized and scarred for life! Indeed, they use all the means at their disposal, be it through cancel culture in social media, or with new laws to restrict free speech and parental rights, to force people into compliance with this devastating and twisted way of viewing the world. All the while calling Christians backwards and ignorant as we strive to hold on to common sense and obvious natural law.
Christians are often made to feel ashamed for our “outdated” and “old fashioned” notions and beliefs regarding all sorts of important issues: be it marriage, life, death, the human body, history, or anything else. But, beloved, this shall all come to an end when Christ returns. “For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off, who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.”
When Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, all these trials we currently endure shall come to an end. A rather abrupt and sudden end. Those ruthless persecutors of God’s people and deniers of His Word shall come to nothing. Those who would scoff shall cease–indeed the evil will be cut off completely as they are cast into hell. Those who have slandered Christians and lied to make us appear to be offenders of the law of the land–those who have tried to entrap Christian bakers, florists, photographers, etc. and force them to break God’s Law and violate their conscience–those who try to ensnare those seeking to defend the truth–and who would deny simple truth according to natural law and plain reason–all those will come to nothing. They will be undone and judged–found wanting in God’s sight–having rejected Jesus as Lord and Saviour, along with His Word of truth.
So, beloved, keep fighting the good fight. Do not give up hope nor give in to despair. Despite the seeming triumph of evil in our world and society–despite the apparent weakness of the church and her members–yet Christ remains Lord of all. He has already won! His victory came at the cross whereby He undid the powers of death and hell–all for you and for me. You have been united with Him in Baptism–and you are strengthened in His Holy Supper–having your sins completely forgiven and looking to Jesus for all good and peace.
You need no longer be ashamed or grow pale with fear. For you are the work of God’s hands–you are His children who sanctify His name–giving Him praise and honour and glory for all that He has done in Christ Jesus. Continue to pray for the misguided and erring of this world–that the truth of God and His Word would reach into every heart in every place. That they may repent of their sin and look in faith to Jesus Christ. May those who have gone astray in spirit come to understanding–and those who murmur accept instruction.
You know of whom I speak. Your own dear loved ones who perhaps were raised in the faith and have since strayed. It is heartbreaking and demoralizing to know they have forsaken Christ and His Word. Yet all is not lost. Remember that the Lord Jesus loves them more than you do. Remember that His Word is powerful. Though they have strayed, they may yet repent and return through the hearing of His Word. They may accept instruction from the Lord. For, as Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”
So, dear friends, do not give up. Earnestly pray for your loved ones. Uphold them before the Lord, trusting in His mercy. Share with them the Word of God that alone has the power to change hearts and minds. Bring them before this holy altar and leave them at the feet of Jesus–and trust Him to work through His Word as He has promised.
Remember that God’s will was done on the cross. It seemed crazy at first. It seemed God’s plan of salvation had failed when Jesus breathed His last. But through His death and resurrection, God worked salvation for all people. And the Light of His Word goes out to all so that some may hear and believe. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 11 August 20, 2023
v.1-4 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, and the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Dear friends in Christ, our epistle serves as the great reformation text Lutherans love and cherish so much. For it emphasizes not one, but THREE, of the great solas of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. Herein St. Paul clearly writes that human beings are not saved by our works, but by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This is the bedrock of the Christian faith—this is what we are all about! "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." What sweet words of the Gospel for us to cling to! For here we have it from the Lord Himself in His Word that our salvation—our redemption—our forgiveness—our life—is dependent not upon us and our good works, but rather solely granted to us as a gift through faith in Christ Jesus alone. What comfort for terror stricken consciences! What consolation for burdened souls. What peace and joy we sinners find in these words when wracked with guilt and shame over our sin.
And yet, these sweet and wonderful words of Gospel proclamation make no sense without the verses that come before them. "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…" You heard right. Dead. Not sick. Not weak. You were not in a situation from which you could help yourself by just putting in a little more work—a little more effort—a little more love. No. You. Were. Dead. End of story. Your sin equals death.
Now if the good news of the free forgiveness of sins by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ is hard to believe—so also is our fallen state—this teaching on our sinful natures. Even though we have hordes of evidence regarding mankind's sinful condition—hard evidence of the doctrine of sin is easily viewed each day on the news—and in our own lives too—as human beings exhibit hatred and anger and impatience and greed and lust and murder and so on. And yet, we tend to get all wishy washy with this teaching on sin when thinking of ourselves or those whom we love. "I'm not that bad." "I'm not as sinful as those wicked people on the news." "I may not be perfect, but I just need a little cleaning up is all."
When it comes to the sins of others we can clearly see it all (and relish in pointing it out) like the Pharisee did to the tax collector in our Gospel text. "That person is a real jerk. They deserve to be punished." But we tend to shy away from such harsh truth when it comes to someone we know and love and care about. We refer to them as simply making some "mistakes" or being "misguided," but certainly not "sinners." No, no, no. We reserve that term for the truly wicked and impenitent: the Adolf Hitlers of the world—the Charles Mansons—the cheating spouse—the rude coworker.
If you ask an ordinary person on the street whether or not they will go to heaven when they die (if they even believe in heaven), what will they most likely say? "YES!" Why? "Because I'm a good person." We see this at funerals –indeed, we have been guilty of saying such things ourselves, at times. When someone we know and love dies (especially if they are not Christian—or haven't really exhibited any sort of Christian faith for years) we still tend to think and talk like maybe, just maybe, they will still go to heaven, because after all, they were a good person—they had a good heart.
And yet, beloved, this is NOT what the Scriptures clearly point out to us regarding our sinful nature. In the O.T. reading in Genesis 4 regarding the first murder wherein Abel is killed by his brother Cain, and then again in the Gospel reading about the prayers of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the temple, we see clear examples of human depravity and sinfulness—and our epistle reading drives this point clearly home—"You are DEAD in your trespasses and sins."
By nature, the sinful flesh inherited from Adam and Eve is dead—and so we are children of God's wrath (His great and just anger against our sin)—wherein we have lived in the passions of our flesh—disobeyed God's clear Word and commands—trespassing against His Law—so that we could live and behave how WE want to—when we want to.
So then, if the Scriptures are clear that we are by nature dead in our trespasses and sins, what are we to do? For make no mistake, dear friends, dead people can't help themselves. You are not infected with a sin bacteria or virus that merely makes you sick and weak—and all you need is some Gospel medicine to help you be better and get better so that you can help yourself out once more. Dead people can't help themselves. A corpse is incapable of making a waffle, let alone doing something to raise itself from the dead.
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…"
As Christians, we are led by God's Holy Spirit to repent of our sin and look not to ourselves or anyone else to save us, but rather only to Christ Jesus. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
Like the Tax Collector, we beat our hearts in the Confession of our sins each week and every day—acknowledging our total depravity—our state of spiritual death before God. And we pray the same prayer, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." Because of God's great love with which He loved you He DOES shower you with mercy in Christ—forgiving your sin by the blood of Jesus which cries out to God from the ground of the cross—speaking a better word than the blood of Abel. As stanza 4 of the great Lenten hymn, Glory Be to Jesus (LSB 433), puts it, "Abel's blood for vengeance Pleaded to the skies; But the blood of Jesus For our pardon cries."
You, who are dead in trespasses and sins have been made alive by God—who through Christ's death and resurrection has set you free from sin and death and the power of the devil, and raised you to new and everlasting life so you may do good works according to His Word and Will, even as you walk your Christian life in the Good Work of Jesus for you on the cross. You serve your neighbor in love—and worship God in joy and thanksgiving—not because it earns you heaven, but because heaven is already yours. You have been seated in the heavenly places for, by virtue of your Baptism, you have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, and now you live with Him.
And the Father continues to shower you with the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ Jesus in the Lord's Supper. When you are given to clearly see your sin and guilt, you flee to the Lord's Table for strength and sustenance—for mercy and life. Fed and nourished by the crucified and risen body and blood of Jesus we confess with the hymn writer for the hymn of the day (LSB 559), "Oh, how great is Your compassion, Faithful Father, God of grace, That with all our fallen race In our depth of degradation You had mercy so that we Might be saved eternally." Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 10 August 13, 2023
v.6-7 I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no
man relents of his evil, saying,
‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his
own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. Even the stork in the
heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the
time of their coming, buy my people know not the rules of the Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, what is the world coming to? It is a crazy,
topsy-turvy world. We have redefined marriage to mean whatever we want it to
mean (which really ends up only emptying it of all meaning). Our world enjoys
and endorses people doing “their own thing” “their own way.” We see people
inside and outside the church taking God's gift of marriage for granted--engaging
in sexual behaviour to those whom they are not wed. We have seen our society
protest loudly at the poaching of endangered animals, all the while remaining silent
at the ongoing slaughter of unborn babies. We scribble and scrabble for attention
and prestige not caring who we step on while on our way to the top of the
corporate ladder. Families and friends disrespect and dishonour one another in
what is said and done, not to mention what is thought privately. However, in God’s
view, many of the things that we enjoy doing are actually harmful to us—and
others—yet we seem not to care.
Hence Jeremiah’s great proclamation to the people of Israel that serves as
our text for this morning. God is angry. God is really upset. The people of Israel
had abandoned His Word—His Laws—His just decrees. It’s not that they didn’t
know them—they knew them perfectly well—they just didn’t care. Sound
familiar? You and I both know God's clear Word of Law in the Scriptures. The 10
commandments are the ways in which God desires us to live. But we ignore,
redefine, and rewrite these laws to suit our own preferences and feelings.
Therefore, in his preaching, Jeremiah lays before them the great contrast that exists
between supposedly intelligent/rational human beings—and simple birds. “You
see,” Jeremiah says, “even the birds like the stork, the crane, the turtledove, the
swallows [we might inject, the Canada Geese, Robins, and the Pelicans] the birds
that migrate—they instinctively know and follow God’s plan for their own
well-being. They go south when the time is right—and come back north again
when food is plentiful. They follow what is right and good for them according to
God’s ordered plan of creation.
People, however—rational/thinking human beings, refuse to repent and turn
away from what is bad for us. Rather, we continue headlong into dangerous
territory—like a horse into battle—transgressing God’s good Law that is intended
for our own benefit—failing to see the danger that lies ahead. We are blinded by
our own sinfulness and pride—revelling in our selfishness and sin—seeking to
gratify every desire of our flesh—whilst turning away from God and His goodness
and peace that He has come to bring us.
"God says marriage is the only and best place for sexual union between man
and woman. But I don't care. I want this person--this relationship–this
experience--right now--at least, for now. How can I marry someone unless I've
lived with them beforehand? Who cares about marriage anyway? This way we are
free. Free to love whom we want and choose, whenever we want and choose.
Who cares that children don't know their parents and don't know from one minute
to the next where they're going to live or with whom. What matters most is what I
want--MY desires--MY needs. And if an unwanted pregnancy occurs...oh
well...we can just get an abortion--problem solved."
Jeremiah is, in essence, saying that “People don’t have the sense that God
gave geese.” We are, simply put, stupid. Stupid, ignorant, faithless, stubborn
people—intent on doing that which is bad for us (and for others)—in complete
disregard for what God has told us is good, right, and salutary.
Our society wildly endorses this kind of behaviour—sexual
immorality—greed—covetousness—etc.—as we are daily encouraged by the
world to give in to our every desire—our every whim—and satisfy the cravings of
our debase and sinful hearts—following our own passions that lead to hell and
What is worse—even the church has now been caught up in this sick and
twisted mode of thinking. We have seen churches like the ELCA and others now
fully endorse the ordination of active homosexual and transgender clergy—in
complete violation of everything that God has stated in His Word and commanded
by His prophets/apostles. Sickeningly, there have even been churches that have
applauded the murder of unborn children, calling it "God's work."
These churches cry out that “all is well” and there is “peace with God” when
in reality there is no peace. For there can be no peace when people refuse to turn
from their sinful ways and repent. They offer a band-aid solution for an open
cancerous wound—infected and deadly—when false prophets announce that
because God is love all people can do what they wish—behave in any
way—believe whatever they want—and still go to heaven. “You want to sleep
around? Go ahead—God bless you!...You want to cheat on your taxes? Well, sure,
that’s clever of you! You want to sell unborn baby's organs for a profit--well,
they're only clumps of flesh, so go ahead...You want to skimp on your tithe to
church? Well, heck no! That’s where we draw the line.”
This is the kind of heresy that Jeremiah was preaching against and reacting
to in his own day. This heresy is still strong and prevalent among us here and now.
We—who have no sense—who are blinded by our own sinful flesh and pride—we
seek after our own vain pleasures and glories—at times even in the face of what we
know to be right and true—disregarding God and His Word.
Woe to us. Woe to those who stumble and fall—yet don’t have the sense to
get back up again—woe to those who strive to attain God’s eternal pleasures in
heaven apart from His grace and mercy in Christ. Woe to us all who would rather
continue on in our sin—running headlong towards the eternal fires of hell—than
repent and run to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy. And woe to any church that
would preach the same.
In the end—that is what God ultimately desires of us—that we turn away
from sin—and in so doing turn toward Him for our every good and His peace that
surpasses all human understanding. He leads and guides us by His Word in the
path that is right for us. And when we stray—when we fall—when we go our own
way—which we will—He seeks to bring us back to a right relationship with Him
through the shed blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ crucified on Calvary’s
cross. His Law smacks us upside the head and makes us finally realize what it is
that we have been doing. And His Gospel—that blessed good news of Jesus dead
for sinners—lifts us up and heals us from our sin and the death that plagues us.
Dear friends, it is Jesus Christ—and Him only—who can and has saved you
from the incredible stubbornness of your own sin. It is He who works through His
own Holy Spirit—who in turn works through the Word of God—to turn you from
your sin and bring you back to God in purity and faith. He plucks you from your
headlong dive into death and degradation—showing you not only the sinfulness of
your every thought, word, and deed, but showing you Christ crucified in your place
to grant you forgiveness, life, and joy.
The great peace the Lord has to give is found only in the crucified flesh of
the Lord Jesus. He who took all your sin into Himself and suffered and died for it
on Calvary’s cross is your Salvation and your every good. In the blessed
Sacraments, the righteousness and purity and forgiveness that He earned with His
suffering, death, and resurrection is bestowed upon you individually. His body and
blood enter into your mouths and cleanse you from all unrighteousness and
sin—transforming your hard hearts of sin and stupidity. For Christ is the wisdom
of God made flesh and He has come to make all things new—including you. As
we pray, "Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
Though we don’t often exhibit the good sense that God gave geese, yet in
His superior wisdom He has sent His only beloved Son Jesus to live the perfect life
that He demands in our stead. The Lord looks at you and sees not all of your
mistakes—your baggage—your bungling idiocy and sin—rather He sees
Jesus—the perfect and wise one who has done all things well—in your place. His
righteousness—His holiness—His purity—is now yours through faith in Him and
His sacrifice on the cross for all your sins.
And it is Jesus’ shed blood that covers all your sins and makes you
clean—turns you from the path of death and destruction—to the path of life
everlasting in His name. Because of Jesus the Lord God no longer remembers
your sin—rather He has thrown them into the Sea of Forgetfulness—separated
them from you as far as the East is from the West. Though your sins were as
scarlet—now you are as snow—pure and clean.
All this is God’s good and gracious will—poured out for you in the blessed
Sacraments—that have washed you clean and made you new through faith in
Jesus. This sweet knowledge comes not instinctively or through experience—but
is rather revealed in His holy Word, which is proclaimed into your ears, which is
poured out upon you in water, placed into your mouth in bread and wine, for the
forgiveness of all your sins. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 8 July 30, 2023
Watchin’ Out for Wolves
v.15-16a Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but
inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Dear friends in Christ, one of my favourite television shows growing up was
The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show. In particular, I liked the ones about Wile E.
Coyote, who was always trying to outmanoeuvre Sam the Sheep Dog, in his bid to
take home a sheep for supper. Sam always had to be extra wary whenever the
coyote was around, otherwise all the sheep would quickly disappear.
Well, in our texts for this morning, we hear warnings from God about false
shepherds—both in the Old and New Testaments. In Jeremiah we hear God’s
scathing rebuke of the false shepherds of Israel who were leading the people astray,
while St. Paul in Acts and Jesus in our Gospel both warn of wolves—false
prophets/shepherds/pastors—who would come to try and destroy the flock/church
Now, Sam the Sheepdog didn’t ever seem to have too much trouble
identifying the coyote—even when he was dressed up as a sheep in disguise.
Often, however, we are not so adept at noting the difference. It can be really
difficult when most preachers kind of look the same as the sheep—even better than
the sheep sometimes!
Some modern day false shepherds shouldn’t be too hard to spot. There is
Todd Bentley who is a revival “pastor” with a violent “ministry.” Indeed, he
enjoys telling the story to thousands of congregants how the Spirit told him to
“heal” a woman by kicking her in the face—so he did. I guess he has never read
the first letter of the apostle John (4:1) which clearly states, “Beloved, do not
believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many
false prophets have gone out into the world.” The truly frightening thing is that so
many people continue to flock to him to hear these twisted stories and actually
seem to delight in them! Relishing the violent behaviour of this supposed pastor
toward God’s people.
However, not all false shepherds may be so easily identifiable. Indeed,
many appear very polished and sophisticated—they wear nice suits—drive nice
cars—have nice families—so how can you tell? Let us look to Scripture for
guidance, dear friends. Jesus says (Matthew 7:16-17), “You will recognize them
by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So,
every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” So, we
will differentiate them by their fruits.
But what kind of fruit are we looking for? Obviously, you don’t see too
many pastors with grapes and figs popping out of their ears. But, according to
Scripture, the fruits of a true prophet are not outward righteousness or appearances
or successes—it is not accounted for by how many come to church on a
Sunday—or how many accolades and praises he receives from the world—rather a
true prophet of God is determined by one thing only—faithfulness to the Word of
God and the Confession of Christ Crucified for sinners.
Now, we may be tempted to follow the flashy preachers who put on a really
good show—who entertain us and wow us with their theatrics—or who tug at our
heartstrings with their stories—or who encourage us with their vision of how the
church should operate. But this is not what the true prophet of God is called upon
to do. Recall the Lord’s words given to Jeremiah in our OT text (23:16-17), “Do
not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain
hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.
They say continually to those who despise the Word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well
with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No
disaster shall come upon you.’”
Pastors are to shepherd their flock according to the Word of the Good
Shepherd who is Lord of the Church. Neither pastors—nor any Christian
person—is to preach/teach visions of their own minds/understanding. Rather, only
what God has revealed to us in His Word of Truth—which is everything we need to
know for our salvation.
True prophets will not tell people what they want to hear, but rather what
they need to hear, as prescribed by God in His Word. Those who seek to proclaim
their own visions—their own truths—are inwardly ravenous wolves who will
scatter and destroy the flock. False teaching, you see, is what truly divides the
church of Christ. False teaching that obscures the perfect work of the Son of God
for the salvation of the world destroys faith and leads people to hell.
True prophets/pastors will not direct people to themselves or this or that
gimmick to grow their faith—rather they will only feed the flock on the rich fruit
of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. You see, this is the fruit we need to
partake of and receive each and every day! We need Jesus—the One who has
come to take our place—to suffer and die for our sins on the cross—to offer up
Himself to the Father as the perfect atoning sacrifice for all sin.
Because you and I are sinners—through and through. We are bad trees that
bear bad fruit and are only fit for the fiery furnace of hell. It is only through faith
in Christ Jesus—trusting in Him—looking to Him—being fed by His body and
blood in the Sacrament—being washed in His Baptism—being forgiven at His
Word—that prunes us and leads us to produce good fruit fit for His heavenly
kingdom. For in His Word and Sacraments we actually receive Jesus—His
blood—His righteousness—that covers over all of our sin and redeems us.
The fruit of the cross of Christ is what you and I need most. For the fruit of
that tree is the fruit of everlasting life and salvation through the sure and certain
forgiveness of sins found only in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is this fruit that
strengthens you so that you are not led astray by false prophets and so brought to
ruin and destruction. Instead, you are filled with the Spirit of God as you receive
His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation exactly where He has told you to find
them—in the blood of Jesus poured out for you on the cross—and given in Word
By these means of God’s grace good shepherds/prophets/pastors drive off
demons with water, place Jesus’ own body and blood into sinners’ mouths to eat
and to drink, and forgive the sins of the repentant. This is the church. This is
Christ’s body that bears much good fruit. And by God’s good grace you are a
living member of it. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 7 July 23, 2023
Genesis 2:7-17 A Word to Trust V.16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Dear friends in Christ,
our text for today is the backdrop–the prelude, if you will–to one of the darkest moments in all human history–the Fall of mankind into Sin. For herein we see the Lord God create man–Adam–in His own image. For “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Then “the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” So, God makes man–Adam–and He puts Adam in this beautiful garden that He had made–a place filled with God’s life and love for mankind–a place of abundant blessing, peace, and joy–where all that there is is GOOD. Into this paradise where there is water to drink and trees and plants for food, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” So there is Adam in the Garden of Eden. He is there to work it and keep it–to be a steward of God’s good creation–helping all to flourish and grow according to God’s good purpose. And then the Lord God blessed Adam even 2 further by giving him a Word to live by. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Now, beloved, we often find this to be a hard word of God. We think to ourselves, “Why would God plant a tree that could potentially cause so much trouble? So much pain, hardship, and death?” First of all, because God’s Word is always good. Obeying it–trusting it–trusting God and His Word–brings life. For remember as Moses later records in Deuteronomy 8:3, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” You see, trusting in and keeping God’s Word brings life. It is disobedience to God’s Word that brings death. Without this warning to Adam concerning this tree of which he was not supposed to eat, Adam had no Word of God to obey. And since Adam knew nothing BUT life, God could only warn Adam properly with death. This tree was intended to be a place of worship where Adam would teach his family the blessed Word of God–that by NOT eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge they would continue to enjoy life with God forever. So God was not tempting Adam, for as the Scriptures clearly declare (James 1:13), God “Himself tempts no one.” But rather the Lord God was giving Adam 3 and all future human beings the means by which to properly worship and honor God–by obeying His Word and trusting in it. But what is the first great sin, beloved? Is it not pride? Pride which arises in the human heart and declares, “I know better than God. I trust myself and my word more than I trust God and His Word.” Indeed, as the saying goes, “Pride goes before the Fall.” And this is exactly the stage that is set in Genesis 2 for the Fall of mankind into sin in Genesis 3. For Pride often manifests itself in disobedience to God’s Word–to declare that we know better. God had said to Adam, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Here God gave a good Word to Adam–a Word of promise and life–to keep God’s Word would bring nothing but continued blessings and joy–to disobey God’s Word would bring sin and death–for as St. Paul declares in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” But Eve and Adam would both discount God’s Word–and seek to trust in the word of another–the devil disguised as a serpent–which would encourage them to pridefully cast off the good word of God and instead embrace their own word, which would bring death. For the devil said in contradiction to God’s Word (Genesis 3:4b-5), “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” How 4 dangerous this is, beloved, for as Jesus declares to the 72 when He sends them out to preach in His name (Luke 10:16), “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” The devil tempted Adam and Eve to reject the Word of God and to embrace their own knowledge–to distrust God’s Word and rejoice in their own. We have abundant examples of this from our own lives and the world around us. Not just rejecting God’s Word, as we are often wont to do–especially those bits and pieces we don’t like–that are hard to keep and make us feel bad. But also re-writing God’s Word entirely! Indeed, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), recently commissioned an Artificial Intelligence (AI) ChatbotGPT to rewrite the book of Genesis to be more in line with their own particular ideas regarding the nature of humanity and animal life. Indeed, the main message is a Vegan interpretation of creation, wherein “God created every sentient being, He saw that they were good, and He gave them greens for sustenance.” Their website declares, “In the beginning, all animals were treated with respect, according to PETA, which has given the Bible’s Book of Genesis a modern makeover using ChatGPT to send a can’t-be-missed animal rights message filled with vegan teachings. PETA hopes the new, cruelty-free Story of Creation will appeal to Generation Z, 73% of whom identify as animal rights activists.” 5 “So, what’s wrong with that?” some may ask. Well, first of all, it pridefully presumes to have authority to change God’s Word. Secondly, it misses the whole point of Genesis and the Bible. It derails the story of mankind’s sin where God’s good creation was broken by man’s rebellion against God’s Word, which then brought death and suffering into all of creation. Death is the penalty for sin as Genesis 2:17 declares, along with Romans 6:23. And beloved, animal rights activists are not the only ones in danger of disobeying or even rewriting God’s Word. We are in constant danger of doing so in our own hearts–ignoring what we don’t like–changing what makes us uncomfortable. We are usually OK with calling out the sins of the world around us–like the LGBTQ community (at least in the safe confines of the walls of our church or surrounded by our church family), but we tend to ignore the sins of which we are so often guilty. We gossip freely about our neighbors, but justify it to ourselves calling it “venting” when God warns us against “bearing false witness against our neighbor.” Or we may rewrite the Third Commandment in our hearts to read, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…unless it’s a super nice day, or you’re really tired, or the fishing is good…then feel free to stay at home or out on the lake.” Beloved, these and more are all sin–all deserving of God’s punishment–all deserve death and hell. Yet thanks be to God that there was another special tree 6 planted in the Garden of Eden–the Tree of Life. This tree was pointing God’s people forward to the great gift of the Tree of the Lord Jesus’ cross–the tree by which He would pay for the sins of the whole world–suffering all the death for all people for all time–and so grant us life through faith in Him. For we now have the Word of God made flesh–the Lord Jesus–of whom St. Paul writes in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This Jesus began the great work of restoring God’s broken creation, as we see hints of in the Gospels–like Jesus using some loaves of bread and a few fish to feed a multitude of people (Mark 8). Furthermore, this Jesus who died in your place and conquered death by rising again three days later, now speaks a Word of forgiveness and mercy to you, which gives you life. He restores and renews your heart by the power of His Word spoken through His pastors in Holy Absolution. He washes you clean with His almighty creative Word combined with water in Holy Baptism–just as He cleansed the world with a flood. As St. Peter declares (1 Peter 3:21), “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the flood], now saves you…” And when you grow hungry and weary from the assaults of the devil upon your soul–and from curbing your own wicked flesh from its sinful desires–and from denying the pleasures and temptations of the world, which would lead you to forsake God’s good Word of life to embrace a false word of death–Jesus prepares a 7 feast for you of His own body and blood in bread and wine–that you may eat and drink of His righteousness–His forgiveness and peace–and so be comforted amidst your trials and sin. Truly, Jesus fills you with His forgiveness and grace–fills you with His body and blood–so that you may eat of Jesus by faith and so be satisfied and filled with the forgiveness of sins. And that is a good Word upon which you can always trust and rely. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 6 July 16, 2023
Matthew 5:(17-19) 20-26
v.20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and
Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Beloved in Christ, at first glance it may seem as though our Gospel text for
this day was tailor made to respond to the societal context in which we find
ourselves--with morals becoming more and more relaxed. In a world that seems to
have gone crazy in chasing after lawlessness, here we have a clear word from Jesus
about the Holy Law of God that was first given to Moses in our O.T. reading. As
society calls on the Christian church to "relax" and to not get so bent out of shape
about little things like sexual identity, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc., Christ
says, "whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others
to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." In a world that is
constantly trying to do away with God's divine law--and to have Christians
disregard it too, Jesus says, "Amen. I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not an iota [smallest Hebrew letter, a yod], not a dot [not even the tiniest stroke of a
part of a letter of God's Word], will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."
Now this text can give us all sorts of cause for righteous indignation. The
government has lost its marbles and is messing with things it doesn't understand.
But really dear friends, are we to be surprised that pagans are behaving and
believing like pagans? I think not. And Jesus' words in our text are not addressed
to unbelievers or to world governmental authorities, but to pious Jews who had
come to hear Him preach from the Mount.
We would do better to apply Christ's words to the church--that we dare not
reject or even relax His laws--let them go and just go with the flow of societal
pressures around us, urging us to accept so many things that are contrary to God's
Word. "You wanna engage in sex outside of marriage--boy or girl--doesn't
matter--have at it and have fun! Don't listen to that dry, grey-haired preacher
man--what does he know about real life anyway? You can't listen to a book that
was written by male chauvinist pigs so long ago! Get with the times. This is the
21st century. We're so much more enlightened than they were back then."
Sadly, as you know, far too many churches have fallen in with the siren
sound of worldly desires and pleasures--dismissing God and His Word--especially
His Law as completely irrelevant to our modern times and ideas. Even those who
bear the name "Lutheran" like the ELCA have fallen in line with this kind of
destructive thinking (Sparkle Creed?!), along with Anglicans [Episcopalians], and
even now some Evangelical churches. More and more are relaxing their grip on
Scripture and abandoning the Word of God--not just His Law, but also His Gospel
that declares faith in Christ alone as the way to salvation.
And before we get too high and mighty dear friends, thinking that this would
never happen to us in the LCMS or LCC (because we're such stalwart and smart
[perhaps stubborn would be more accurate] Lutherans who actually claim to
believe what the Scriptures say), let's pause a moment and think. Remember that
the Scribes and the Pharisees were close adherents to the Law of God. They were
picture perfect at paying their tithes to the church, worshiping every Lord's Day,
doing no harm to others, helping neighbours in need--they were super people and
super citizens too! And yet Jesus clearly says, "unless your righteousness exceeds
that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
So where does this leave us? We can't abandon God's Holy Law--we can't
relax even an inch--let go even one letter--of God's Word without risking losing all
of it. Nor can we trust in our own righteousness to please God. For as Jesus
proclaims in our text, and indeed the rest of Chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel, the
Law of God is too good and too pure for us to ever keep it. Try as we might--and
we should--we will never keep it as God demands.
The Pharisees thought they were doing it! They thought they were
managing to keep all of God's 10 commandments, but it was nothing more than a
slight, superficial keeping of the Law. Jesus takes it deeper--far deeper--down to
our conscience and thoughts and our very being. "You think you never murdered
someone? Huh, well have you ever been angry, called someone a nasty name, did
something to hurt someone else? Then, sorry, you're guilty. You're doomed.
That's the Law speaking. The Law of God that rightly and justly condemns
you and me and everyone else for our sinfulness and arrogance and pride. Sure,
people may come across on the surface as being pretty good. We may cut our
grass, be kind to our neighbours, even love our enemies--but that won't get you
into heaven. Even the best, most noblest human beings who dedicate their lives to
God and neighbour for good--are still full of sin and death, be they grandma and
grandpa Schmidt or Mother Theresa. "What? Impossible! You mean I could work
my whole life and never come close to keeping God's Law perfectly and earning
heaven?" Exactly! That's the point. Your righteousness must exceed that of the
Scribes and Pharisees. Where did their righteousness come from? Their own
works. So where must your righteousness come from to enter the kingdom of
heaven? From Someone Else--Outside of you--the Lord Jesus.
Beloved. You don't need to be tense or worried about how the world turns in
this life--what happens or doesn't happen. You don't even need to worry about how
you're going to get into heaven. Because none of it--not the teeniest, tiniest little
bit--depends upon you. You can relax. For Christ has set you free.
The righteousness of Jesus far exceeds all that you or I or the Scribes or
Pharisees could ever hope to achieve. For His righteousness is that of God
Almighty Himself. He keeps the Law perfectly--every last Word--even the
smallest stroke of the smallest letter--for He is the Word of God made flesh. He
has not abolished the Law, but fulfilled it. He has, however, forever abolished the
death and damnation that you deserve on account of your sin. For Christ Jesus has
taken it into His own innocent flesh and suffered and died for it on the cross.
Jesus' love for you is not slight or superficial--but heartfelt. A heart that felt
all of your guilt, anger, shame, doubt, unbelief, and so much more. A heart that
moved Him to endure the wrath of God for your sake. A heart, that when pierced
by the cruel Roman spear, poured out blood and water--to cover your sin and make
your righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees and Mother Theresas
of the world.
Beloved, by relaxing and trusting in the Word and work of Jesus Christ on
the cross--you have been fully and freely forgiven. Freed now to live according to
God's Law and keep it--not to earn heaven, but because it's already yours. Free to
proclaim the truth of God's love--His Law and His Gospel--to a world mired in sin
and death. Will this be easy? No. Will you suffer hardship for proclaiming the
clear Word of God--His moral teaching as well as His salvation through faith in
Christ? Most likely.
But remember, through your Baptism into Christ you have died to sin and
been raised to new life through faith in Him. By clinging to the cross of Jesus,
your righteousness DOES exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees--for it is not
your own--but Christ's. Nothing you or I do could ever add or take away from His
perfect work of our salvation. And by His righteousness you have been given
forgiveness for all of your sins--your own immorality as well as your failure to
speak God's Word boldly as you know you should. By Christ's death and
resurrection you have been saved and given new life and courage by the Holy
Jesus Christ has come and paid the whole debt of your sin--every last
penny--through His suffering, death, and resurrection. He has reconciled you to
God by His shed blood--and to each other. When you doubt your
righteousness--when the devil accuses you of your sin--when God's Law does its
work and clearly reflects just how inadequate and unworthy and sinful you truly
are--putting your sinful flesh to death--then come to your pastor--come to
church--confess your sins--unburden your heart--and receive freely from the hand
of Jesus the forgiveness you so desperately need. In the words of Holy
Absolution--in the strengthening of the Lord's Supper by the eating and drinking of
Jesus' body and blood--and in remembering your Baptism into Christ. With these
great gifts of God--you truly can relax--and rest in Jesus' love, mercy, forgiveness,
and peace. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Trinity 5 July 9, 2023
It's Called "Catching" NOT "Fishing
v.10b And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."
Dear friends in Christ, our text for this morning takes place at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. St. Luke has already related the story of Jesus' birth, one story from His adolescence, Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan by John, His temptation by the devil in the wilderness, His rejection as a prophet in His hometown of Nazareth, and His healing of various diseases and demon possessions. Luke now picks up the story with Jesus calling some helpers—the first disciples—those whom Jesus would teach over the course of the next three years, and who would continue His ministry following His death, resurrection, and ascension.
Our text occurs in Capernaum—a small fishing village along the coast of the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee)—which is the hometown of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John—and would later serve as Jesus' base of operations for His public ministry. But these are early days. Jesus has come to Capernaum to preach and teach. Yet He is so popular (already!) that "the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the Word of God." Hear that again—the crowd was pressing Him so hard to hear His Word that they were practically laying upon Him—hemming Him in on every side.
Realizing that the crowd was too close for Him to be heard by those farther away, Jesus "saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat." Jesus seizes the opportunity along the lakeshore to get into a boat and move back away from the crowd so that His voice may be better heard by all the people.
However, what happens next is when things go a little sideways. For Jesus, "when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.'" Now, beloved, we happen to live in lake country—and many people here have a passion for fishing—and will invest vast sums of time and resources into their hobby. But remember that Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and James and John were professional fishermen. Fishing the Lake of Gennesaret was their livelihood—and they were good at their craft—for together they had a small fleet of at least two boats.
Note that Simon, the professional fisherman, is somewhat skeptical of Jesus' command to go fishing. It's not the right time for fishing for one thing, and they had just finished an all-nighter in which they had been skunked! They were exhausted, having just gotten everything ready for the next day, and were no doubt looking forward to a good meal and some rest. Yet Simon answered Jesus, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."
You know, beloved, you know how Simon must have felt. There have been times when you go out fishing and don't get even the teeny tiniest nibble! Frustrating! But, as the saying goes, "They call it 'fishing' not 'catching!'"
However, this is not so when you are with Jesus, the Lord of Creation and life. For "when they had done this [let down the nets], they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'"
So, despite their better earthly wisdom regarding fishing, Simon and Andrew let down the nets of their boats in the wrong place at the wrong time, but do so "at the word of Jesus" and it results not in "fishing" but "catching" a large number of fish—so many, in fact, that their nets become endangered of breaking under the strain.
After signaling for help from their partners, James and John, Simon's response to this miraculous event is swift indeed. For he falls down on his face before Jesus' knees, prostrating himself in an attitude of profound worship and fear, recognizing that the Man who stands before him is no ordinary man. Getting a glimpse of the glory of the Lord is a terrifying experience (just ask the prophet Moses—for God said to him in Exodus 33:20, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live."). So, Peter, in great terror cowers before Jesus' feet and asks Him to depart since Peter knows He is a sinful man and should in no way be near One such as this—who can command the fish and the sea in such a way.
Yet Jesus' response is also quick and beautiful, for "Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.'" Jesus speaks to Simon and comforts him, first of all—Do not be afraid. "Do not fear Simon, for I have not come to condemn you in your sin, but to call you to faith and hope in Me, and to appoint you to a wonderful ministry—to be a participant in My Word and work—which is Good News for all people—for it is nothing less than the full remission of all sins through faith in Me and My atoning blood shed on the cross."
Do you hear that, beloved? Jesus called Simon to "catch men." Not to "fish" for men, but to "catch" them. How? By casting wide the net of Jesus' Gospel Word throughout the world. You are familiar with this Word of Jesus from the end of St. Matthew's Gospel where the risen Jesus declares to the disciples at His ascension into heaven, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Beloved, Jesus calls you and me to this glorious task as well. A task to spread wide His Gospel net unto all the world so that all people may hear His Word of forgiveness and peace and so be "caught" in faith for Jesus.
But we, too, are afraid. It's not easy to speak up and tell people about Jesus. It's scary! We might share our faith with them—tell them the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection for them—and they might have questions! They might ask US questions—questions we don't have the answer to—that would be embarrassing and frightening all at the same time. Or, they may not receive that Gospel message with joy, but rather with scorn and disdain—they may end up mocking us—ridiculing us—and that would cause us pain—who wants that? It's a scary prospect. Much better to stay quiet and not saying anything at all. But that would be to disobey Jesus—nor would it be trusting in His Word of promise.
Yet, beloved, into your fear comes the Word of Jesus—"Do not be afraid." Do not fear—for your Jesus goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you as you go about His great call to Baptize and Teach the nations in His blessed name. He is with you always! In Word and Sacrament He comes to you to lift you up and bless with you His forgiveness and mercy—console you with His pardon and peace—restore you with His healing grace.
For this same Jesus—the Jesus whose Word called fish from the deep to fill the disciples' nets—is the same Jesus whose Word you proclaim that goes forth to fill peoples' hearts with the light and love of Jesus. That Word of the Gospel that acts as a net to catch men—has first caught you—in the waters of your Baptism—washing you in the redeeming name of God for the forgiveness of your sins. This Word catches people through simple preaching and teaching, devotions and Bible reading. It seems so weak and useless on the surface, but as St. Paul declares in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1:23-25), "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."
Beloved, we don't engage in "fishing" for men—that is, using our own techniques or wisdom to win people to Christ—thinking that if we can come up with a clever enough argument—or a really cool meme—that THEN people will believe in Jesus. Or, if we have some great church program, or the right kind of music to lure people into the church—then they will be won for Jesus. Not so. Jesus does not give us a fishing rod with all sorts of different bait or lures to draw people into the church (His body), but rather a simple net. A net that is the simple Gospel message of Christ crucified for sinners such as you and me. And this net "catches" people—grabs hold of them by the power of the saving work of Jesus given in Word and Sacrament.
No wonder why we don't need to be afraid! It's not our job to go "fishing" for men, but rather simply to go "catching men" by the power of Christ's own Word. The Word that filled the disciples' nets with fish—the Word that created the sun, moon, and stars—the Word that has filled your hearts with Christ at your Baptism—and feeds you daily in the richness of His love and mercy as you hear and read over and over again of His saving work for you on the cross. You are called to proclaim nothing less than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And, beloved, it's enough. Indeed, the power of Christ crucified is MORE than enough to "catch" all men.
For that powerful Word reaches deeply into sin-darkened hearts, bringing light and joy—it reaches into sin-battered consciences—soothing them with Jesus' mercy and love—releasing them from the guilt and shame that so plagues them. Jesus' Gospel Word "catches" people with its stunning grace, and brings them to trust in Him and cast off their fear and sorrow, falling down before His life and love. As it does with you. So, go about this task with joy and thanksgiving in your hearts—not afraid—but confident in Jesus and His Word to do the work to which He has called you. After all, "from now you will be catching men," NOT fishing. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.