Recent Sermons

Mary, The Mother Of Our Lord
Sermon: December 24, 2017
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
II Samuel 7:1-16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”(Luke 1:26-27) Gabriel was a busy angel. He had announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zachariah, and was now sent to Mary in Nazareth. And being the great archangel undoubtedly had other duties in preparation for the birth of God’s Son. Things were happening rapidly now. The fullness of time had come as God had planned for the redemption of His people.
God is a God of order bringing things to pass at the right moment. He was working with people He had created , and to whom He had given the power to choose. He would not usurp that power even as He sought to guide them by His Holy Spirit. He wanted people to freely love and obey Him, and not as puppets controlled by strings. So, while God is in ultimate control of all things, He has bound Himself in love to the directions people choose to take. But now the fullness of God’s time had come, and a virgin from a small northern town in Galilee would bear His Son.

The virgin was “pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.”(vs.27) This was part of God’s plan to fulfill the promise made to King David through the Prophet Nathan a thousand years before Christ. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”(II Samuel 7:16) All things were coming together at the right time, God’s time.

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.’”(1:28-30) What a marvelous greeting, and the appearance of an angel! No wonder Mary was troubled. What did this mean for this young girl in her early teens? How had she found favor with God? There is a marvelous truth here. The Psalmist has said that God sees all the affairs of mankind.(33:13) God is not far off. He knows each of us personally to the depth of our being. He loves us, seeks to guide us, and can use us for His good purpose. As Mary, we don’t know where all that will lead, but we are in His good hands.

Gabriel told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”(1:31-33) Mary will be the mother of God’s Son! In theological terms Mary is called the theotokos, the God bearer. Or the mother of God. I must admit my personal bias here, because I’ve never liked the term mother of God. A mother, in my understanding, always precedes the child, and nothing precedes God. It is very true that Mary bore God’s Son, but I think it is here that the Catholic Church makes too much of honoring Mary. But at the same time we Protestants tend to make too little of her.

In the middle ages some theologians gave Mary a status approaching deity. Some in more modern times want to view her as a co-redeemer with Christ. Certainly, neither of these views can be supported by Scripture, and I don’t think they are the view of most Catholics. However, a lot of Catholic doctrine has elevated Mary to a status beyond what Scripture accords.

Mary was undoubtedly a devout and faithful young woman. God highly regarded her. And from characteristics later shown in her life she had a gentle and quite spirit that would ponder quietly within herself the truths and events to come. Luke does not exalt Mary. She is not mentioned by name in John, and Paul doesn’t mention her at all. But, even so, we can say that Mary is a woman of both humility and strength.

She had to ask this angel standing before her, “’How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’”(vss.34-37) This is where our human dilemma comes in. We have the Word of God. We believe He is true and faithful. We know that He loves us. But how can this be? How can He act in this situation? Will He answer this prayer? Will this situation change? We identify with Mary in many of our times of life.

But then we hear that “no word from God will ever fail”, or another translations says “nothing is impossible for God”. We know these words are true. Our God is the sovereign over all times, places, and needs. Not only this, but they are backed up by all of God’s past actions. Mary will see that her relative, Elizabeth, is having a son in her old age. She will rejoice in all that God is doing. We all live in the tension between “how can this be?” and “nothing is impossible with God”. But we live in the witness of all God has done with us, and with the world around us. As with Mary facing the uncertainty of all that was ahead, we move forward day by day trusting in the guidance of our God. And that leads to the real reason we should hold Mary in high honor.

After hearing all that God had planned for her, Mary responded “’I am the Lord’s servant, May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”(vs.38)

It is in this that Luke shows Mary to be the ideal disciple of the Lord. Mary has been called to the task of bearing and raising Jesus, who has been declared God’s Son. She accepts His will in humble trust and obedience. When she visits her relative Elizabeth the older woman says of her “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”(vs.45) “Blessed is she who believed.” Mary is not blessed because she was going to be the physical mother of the Lord Jesus. Time would come, as old Simeon prophesied when the boy was just eight days of age, that a sword would pierce her own soul. And we can’t imagine the pain Mary endured seeing her son hanging on a Roman cross. No, this part of her calling was no blessing.

In spite of the uncertainty and pain ahead Mary models for us a life of devotion and faithfulness to God’s Word. Mary was not without sin as some doctrines declare. She was born of sinful flesh just as you and I. She lived a normal domestic family life seeing to the needs of her husband and children. In all of it her’s was a life of trust and obedience.

When the child had come in the dark of the rude stable, and the shepherds appeared with their account of the heavenly choir, Mary quietly “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”(Lk.2:19) An example for us as well. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

The Year of Jubilee
Sermon: December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-11; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8 & 19-28

Jacob and Anna were part of the Hebrew tribe of Asher in the northwest part of Israel. Their families had come out of Egypt under Moses some five generations past. Jacob’s grandfather had acquired the small piece of land on which they had lived. His grandfather, father, and now he had farmed the land for as long as he could remember. It was a small plot, but it had been sufficient to feed their family. But now they had fallen on hard time.

Depending on the land as they were, they needed rain and were in the midst of a long drought. The whole region had been suffering famine for the past six years. It had gotten so bad that they had had to sell their ancestral land, something that every Jew hated to do. They moved to the near by town of Karah. But Jacob was a farmer and town life didn’t suit him very well. He had worked for a number of shop keepers in town, but they were under the pressure of the famine also. No job lasted very long, and their money from the sale of the farm was running out. They couldn’t even keep up the meager rent on the two rooms in which they lived. Now that their first child had come along they had three mouths to feed.

It was with many tears that Jacob and Anna prayed fervently, and discussed what they might possibly do. It was a terrible prospect, but they saw no other. The Law of Moses allowed a family to offer themselves in servitude to one of their fellow Jews. They would become his property for service as he saw fit. There were strict laws, however, that they couldn’t be mistreated, but that was often left to the conscience of the particular master. It was also true that any children born would also be the property of the master, but at lease the Jewish law didn’t allow the family to be divided.

It was a terrible prospect, and many tears were shed. It was also the case that the only likely situation would be in the southern part of Asher, far from all that was familiar. But as God led, Jacob did make contact with a farmer south of the town of Cabul a day and a half’s journey away. So it was that Jacob, and Anna, with their year and a half old son, with another baby on the way, made their way to their new master’s home.

He was not an unkindly man, but the work was hard. Anna had chores in the house while trying to take care of her own little ones. Some rains had come and the famine had eased, but the deal had been struck. Jacob’s family now belonged to this land owner. Time passed. There were three children now, and Jacob’s oldest, twelve year old Eli, worked with him in the fields.

It was difficult, but the greater sadness was being away from their home area, their family, and the land they loved. It had been eleven years, eleven long years. But there was a provision in the Law of Moses for a time of release from all debts, and all servitude. It was called the Year of Jubilee. Moses had taught that on the Jewish calendar the people were to “count off seven sabbaths of year, seven times seven years, or a period of forty nine years.”(Leviticus 25:8f) Then, on the Day of Atonement of the forty-ninth year, the priests would sound the shofar, the great ram’s horn trumpet, through the land. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” The Priests read from the Law of Moses that God decreed that there be freedom from debt, and from all bondage. All debts between Jews were to be canceled, all servitude ended, and all land returned to the original owner. Even the ground was to lay fallow for that year. “It is to be a Year of Jubilee and is to be holy” for all the people. It was a proclamation of true freedom.

For Jacob and Anna, after so many years, it seemed like a miracle. The sacred Day of Atonement approached and the Shofar sounded. They were free.

The story is from my imagination, but it’s not an unlikely scenario in ancient Israel. This was the Jewish Law that Jesus knew so well. As He taught His people He showed that many things about Himself were written in Moses and the Prophets. This Law of the Jubilee Year is one of them.

As the priests declared the Jubilee Year throughout Israel, John the Baptist was sent to declare the presence of the long awaited Messiah. “Among you stands One you do not know. He is the One whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”(1:26-27) He would be the bringer of true freedom.

Shortly after Jesus began His public ministry He returned to the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth. He was asked to read from the scrolls, and chose this Isaiah passage we’ve just heard. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Luke 4:18-19) Then Jesus had the boldness to declare, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Fulfilled, it had come to pass in this one John had announced just a short time before.

Jesus came to “proclaim freedom to the captives”. His words were chosen carefully. The word for freedom in the Hebrew of Isaiah 61 from which Jesus read, is the same word used to proclaim liberty in the Year of Jubilee. Jesus had come to cancel debts, and release those in bondage. Jesus sounds the Shofar declaring the beginning of our Jubilee.

I hope with my imaginative story of Jacob and Anna we could empathize somewhat with their plight. Because that, and many times more, is our poverty and hard servitude under the burden of sin. “All have sinned”, declared St. Paul, “and fall short of the Glory of God.”(Romans 3:23) And we confess “we are by nature sinful and unclean”. This is a bondage from which we have no power to escape. Unless the Lord acted on our behalf, as He did in the Year of Jubilee, we would be eternally lost.

But God has acted. That is the truth to which our Advent celebrations point. It is why this Third Sunday is designated as Joy, and why St. Paul can write to the Thessalonians, “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances…”(5:16-18)
There is freedom in Christ Jesus. At the cross Jesus invites all to come and find release from the bondage of sin. And as Jacob and Anna must have rejoiced in the Year of Jubilee we rejoice in the greatest joy of our life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

Looking Beyond
Sermon: December 10, 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11; II Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-18

St. Mark begins his text in a different way from the other two synoptic Gospels. Mark doesn’t include a narrative of Jesus’ birth as Matthew and Luke do. He starts right in. “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel” in Greek is “evangelion” from which we get evangelism, and the name of our church magazine The Evangel. It is a proclamation of good news, or glad tidings. We are told that this Good News was announced before hand by the prophets. Mark immediately refers to the Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament text we read this morning, “a voice of one calling in the desert…” Mark wants us to see that this gospel, this good news, is coming to a people in the barrenness of the desert. One commentator remarked that in the Hellenistic context the word “gospel” mean good news coming from the battlefield. It is good news in a place of struggle.

One of the words characteristic of Mark’s writing is the word “immediately”. Immediately this happened, or immediately Jesus knew… it is also interesting to note that St. Peter’s hand is behind the writing of Mark’s Gospel, and it is Peter who tells us that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”(II Pt. 3:9) The Good News of Jesus Christ is to have an immediate impact on the hearts of people, even in the midst of the deserts of life.

This is a call to look beyond, to look, in trust, to Jesus who is calling us to come and follow Him.

God called Isaiah to proclaim a similar message 700 years before Christ. Isaiah knew intimately the sins of the people among whom he lived. He knew the evil of king’s rule. He understood that their sin would ultimately result in the nation being conquered by a foreign power, and the people being carried off into captivity as had already happened with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Even so, God had told him to give a message that would strengthen them in their time of need. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”(40:1-2) This was a call to look beyond, to understand the trials they presently faced, but to also see the promise of restoration God held out for them when they turned from their sins.

John the Baptist was sent as a forerunner before Jesus. He was a voice crying in the midst of the oppression of Roman occupation. He spoke to a people who’s religious leaders gave them little reason for hope beyond a strict adherence to the Jewish laws. They were, as Jesus said, “like sheep without a shepherd”. They needed to see there was something beyond, some hope that God would fulfill all the promises He had made through the prophets. That “something beyond” would be in the life of the One John came to announce.
Jesus was baptized by John. The heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove. A voice from heaven declared “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”(vs.11) But immediately following this wonderful baptism the Spirit sent him out into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. And the next three years of his life would see misunderstanding, rejection, shallow acclaim, and finally death on a Roman cross. Yet He declared that there was something beyond all this, and it was that something God wanted all people to see and hold to.

Jesus began to preach in Galilee and then throughout Israel. “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe in the good news.”(vs.15) “The time has come.” What time? With the coming of Christ the time of the fulfillment of God’s promises had begun. For fifteen hundred years God had spoken through Moses and the Prophets of the promised Redeemer. Now He had come. He was in their midst, and their was hope. He is still in our midst, and is our hope.

“The Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus, Himself, is the center of the Kingdom. He is not far off. He is near at hand for everyone who calls upon Him. The thief on the cross looked over, through the depth of his agony, and simply said, “Lord remember me.” The kingdom was there for him.

“Repent”, Jesus said, “and believe in the good news”. Repentance is a reversal in ones direction. It is the looking beyond one’s self, one’s own wrong desires, and failed plans. It is looking away from sin, and toward the One who redeems from sin. It is looking beyond one’s immediate situation to the One who can help in all situations. This is Jesus’ constant call to turn and look to Him.

We have faced a number of heart aches this year. Our dear sister Amy dying and leaving her family and two young children. The deaths of our good brothers Robert and Bill disrupting friendships that were precious. The sudden death of Glenn Brake. And most recently the tragic death of Joyce’s grandson, Mark, dying far too young, and leaving his five year old son. To these we can add the sicknesses and other difficult needs we pray for weekly. This is the Babylonian captivity Isaiah foretold. This is the desert into which the voice of John the Baptist cried. This is the world broken by sin and rebellion into which God sent His Son. This is the world Jesus fully experienced as He was tempted by the devil, and walked the three years among us. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”(Hebrews 4:15) Almighty God did this for us. He came among us Himself in Jesus to redeem the creation He loves. God’s voice testified from heaven underlining the redeeming work He intended through His Son.

It is this High Priest, Jesus Christ, who declares to us “the Kingdom of God is near”, and calls us to “repent and believe in the good news”. Turn again to look clearly at Him. Believe that there is Good News. Even through tears look beyond the present time, and hear Isaiah’s words. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for,…”(40:1) Our sin has been paid for. We are redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We can look beyond the present pain and know that our hard service will come to an end.

Looking beyond the present pain doesn’t ignore it, or pretend that things aren’t bad, or that there aren’t real needs to be met. But it does give hope and direction to the present, and the ability to carry on. It says “this is not all there is. There is more, and it is good.” That is the Good News and the hope of the Kingdom.

“In keeping with his promise,” Peter wrote, “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (II Pt.3:13-14) We do all that needs to be done now, but we keep looking forward. We have the promise and the assurance in Jesus Christ that the best is yet to come. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

The Wonder of Wonders
Sermon: December 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 11:1-10

The Preacher really got his dates wrong this week! It is the First Sunday in Advent, and he just read the Palm Sunday lesson. That’s not for another four months. Well, yes, I’m a bit ahead with the reading. The Church Fathers gave me two choices for the Gospel reading today. It was either Mark 11, which I read, or Mark 13 which dealt with the second coming of our Lord. Admittedly, that would have fit better with the normal theme used during Advent. But then, I don’t always do things that are normal. Since the Church Fathers chose this as an alternative I thought we could look at how it applies to this season.

The Prophet Isaiah, near the end of his text, looks back over the history of his people seeing how they had, time and again, separated themselves from their God by their sins. In chapters 63 and 64 he prays, recounting much of the people’s waywardness even as God continued to seek them. Human history since the time the man and woman were removed from the Garden, has been a history of sin and rebellion from the will of God who created them. When man and woman first yielded to the voice of the Tempter saying, “you will not die, but you will be like God, knowing good and evil” mankind has sought to put himself in the place of God.

The fact that God created us at all is an astounding wonder. God has always been perfect in Himself. He has perfect love and fellowship within the three persons of the Holy Trinity. He has extended his love to myriads of myriads of heavenly beings. His Kingdom is teaming with life, with activity, and with good. Why He should ever extend His creative love to a weak and puny creature called man is a wonder upon wonders. We give ourselves far too much credit when we think we are anything great. It is only by God’s creative hand and for His majestic glory that we are anything at all. All of our wisdom, our learning, our sciences and arts, are nothing but a drop in the ocean of His creative power.

Yet He did create us in a way distinct from every other created being. We were made in His image, “in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.”(Genesis 1:26) We are a completely new order of being, and He declared His desire to dwell among us. Another astounding truth! God desires to dwell among the people of His creation. Yet after that first sin, we found that having God too close cramps our style. “Did God really say that we weren’t supposed to do that? Why is God denying us this pleasure? How does God expect us to live with all these rules? We only sinned a little bit. There are a lot worse people than we are.” And on and on go the justifications for our rebellion. So Isaiah was right in his pleading for God’s mercy. “Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us we pray, for we are all your people.”(64:9)

The Tempter who caused our first parents to sin, has never ceased in his plan to destroy this new creation, and separate mankind from God. The devil works on our fallen human nature to bring out what St. Paul told the Galatians were the works of the flesh – sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”(5:19-21) What has filled our new media in recent weeks from Hollywood, the halls of Congress, and media stars? Nothing but pushing aside God’s good commands and yielding to fleshly lusts. Men have used their power, wealth, and position to indulge themselves in sin.

But we dare not point fingers out there at those bad Hollywood types, for the same temptations assault our own human flesh. Pornography is an epidemic today with a variety of bad side affects. One company that tracts such things reported that over 4 billion hours of pornographic material was viewed last year. And it is not only men but also women who are addicted. Sexual sin is prominent, but far from the only transgression of God’s will. Paul’s list of “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy, and drunkenness” are right up there with it. And whether in large or small ways they touch us all. “All have sinned,” Paul wrote,” and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23) So what is a gracious God to do? We know the story of God saving work in Jesus Christ, but we must never treat it lightly or take it for granted.

We just faced a tragic death this past week in the Ballard family, and we have faced other deaths in the recent past. Death is an enemy and the consequent of our rebellion from God. All of the things Paul related to the Galatian Church as the sins of the flesh lead to death. But Scripture clearly says that God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. We’ve said that He created us different and unique among all who are in His Kingdom, and that He desires to dwell with us eternally. Yet our sins have separated us from Him, and there is nothing we can do to bridge that separation.

The Advent Season prepares us for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Don’t ever loose the wonder of Christmas, and I’m not talking about beauty of the Season with all its lights and decorations. The wonder of Christmas is that Almighty God came among us Himself. As one of the old Gospel songs declares “Out of the ivory palaces into a world of sin”. Almighty God took on human flesh, became one of us, experienced all of the pains, trials, and temptations that you and I face. Almighty God identified Himself completely with the people He, Himself, created. Don’t ever loose that wonder, or fail to meditate upon the love that motivated Him. A wonder of wonders coming in the most humble of births to a peasant couple in the stable of a tiny Judean village. A humble beginning that marked the humility that would be the character of His entire life. Jesus, God in human flesh.

But He came for the purpose of being declared King. He made that ride on a donkey’s back into Jerusalem with the shouts of “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. He came to be crowned King with a crown made of thorns, and raise up on the dias of a Roman cross with spikes through His hands and feet. Every king, upon taking up his rule, receives all the wealth and power of his position. Our King, King Jesus, received into himself the full wrath of God for all of the sins of mankind, wrath that you deserve, wrath and I deserve. By His death, atonement was made for all of our sins, and the separation between God and man was bridged. That is the truth of the Gospel, the Good News we have the privilege to declare. That is the old old story that we’ve known for many years, but don’t ever let it become old. It is a wonder upon wonders of the depth of love of the God who created us.

Yes, perhaps the Mark 13 lesson concerning the second coming of our Lord would have been more appropriate for the beginning of Advent. But you can’t unfold that truth without first coming in wonder of the One who became King by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s back in order to die. It is that King who has made atonement for all our sins. It is that King who has worked in our lives through all of our years to bring us to faith. It is that King who has brought us here this morning to gather around the altar and hear the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. It is that King whose birth we celebrate, and in whose life we live. A wonder of wonders of the grace of our God. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

Three Young Boys and a Gracious Truth
Sermon: October 29, 2017
Reformation Sunday
Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; Matthew 11:12-19

Joachim and his father were in the sheep pen selecting a lamb to be butchered. It had to be a perfect lamb with no marks or scrapes on its skin. A couple of the sheep had broken their legs which had healed, but they couldn’t use them. They looked over the flock carefully, finally finding one that was just right. A perfect year old, unblemished lamb. They were going to butcher the lamb for this evening’s meal, and share the meat with Levi’s family who lived next door. Young Joachim sensed that this was a very special and important night.

The family, part of the Israelite tribe of Asher, had been in Egypt for a long time. In fact, Joachim had lived nowhere else in the tender nine years of his life. Nor had his father, or grandfather. All he knew was that his people had been slaves to the Egyptians for a very long time, and had been treated very badly.

“Dad, do you hate the Egyptians?” Joachim asked.
“No son, I don’t hate them.”
“But they have treated us so badly. They have kept our people as slaves. They’ve made you work long hours. I’ve seen how tired you look when you come home. And I saw those whip marks on your back. I hate them for what they are doing to you and the others.”
“Dear son, you must not hate them. Hate only works to make your own life bitter. I know our lives have been hard under the Egyptians, but God still cares for us, and will deliver us from slavery. That is why God has sent Moses to us. He has been going to Pharaoh to demand that he free our people. You will see. God is working for us.”
In fact, God had been working for His people. God had sent Moses and his brother Aaron to call Pharaoh to account for his harsh treatment, and to demand that Israel be released from bondage. God had caused nine plagues to come upon Pharaoh and his people, but in the stubbornness of his heart he continued to refuse. Tonight, Moses had said, the last plague would come, and the people must be ready to leave.

“But why are we butchering the lamb now?” Joachim asked.
“Son, God has said that tonight the angel of death will pass through the land of Egypt, and all of the first born sons will die.”
With fear in his young voice Joachim asked, “Am I going to die, Dad? I’m the first born in our family.”

“No, son. That is why we have the lamb. God has instructed us to take some of the blood of the lamb and put it on the door posts of our house. When the angel of death sees the blood he will pass over our home. You will not die. You will be protected by the blood of this lamb.”

And so every year thereafter the people of Israel celebrate the Passover to commemorate the deliverance God brought about for His people through the blood of a sacrificial lamb.

If we now move forward in time by about 1500 years, we hear another conversation between a father and his son. The city is Antioch. The year about 95AD. Young Demas had learned about the history of their people at their church which met in Justin’s house. He knew about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. About how Jacobs family had gone into Egypt, and were held in slavery for hundreds of year. He loved the story of how God used Moses to deliver them, and how he brought them into the Promised Land.

“Dad”, he said one afternoon. “Why don’t we still sacrifice a lamb, and spread the blood on the door posts like they did? I’m the first born son of you and Mom. Don’t I need protection like that?
“Demas, my boy, you have all the protection you need in Jesus our Saviour. You have heard the letters of Paul and Peter read in our church, and all about Jesus in Matthew’s writing. The animal sacrifices all through the history of our people were symbols pointing forward to the perfect sacrifice Jesus made for us. You see, Jesus is our perfect lamb. He gave his life in atonement for our sins.”

“What does that mean, ‘atonement for our sins’”? Demas asked.
“Demas, when you do something bad, like last week when you were fooling around and broke your mother’s favorite pitcher, what happened?”
“Well, when you came home you punished me.”
“And did you deserve that punishment?”
“Well, yes, I guess so.”

“Yes, you really did deserve it. But, you see, Demas, all of us do bad things and deserve punishment. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ None of us is perfect like God is. None of us can come into the presence of our holy God by ourselves because we are sinful. We all deserve to be driven into outer darkness, like Jesus said in one of His parables.”

“That’s pretty scary”, Demas commented.
“Yes, son, that is terrible scary, but it is the punishment we all deserve because of our sins. Think again about the punishment you got last week for breaking the pitcher. Suppose, I had said to you, ‘Demas, you deserve this punishment, but I am going to take it in your place’. Suppose, I took the spanking you got, and did the extra chores instead of you. How would you feel?”

Demas was quiet for a long while before he spoke. “Well, dad. I guess I’d be glad that I didn’t get the punishment, but I think I would also be sad because I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“Dear son, you are exactly right. And that is what Jesus did for us. That is what atonement for our sins means. We deserve God’s punishment for our sins, but God put that punishment on His own son, Jesus. When Jesus died on that cross in Jerusalem, God took all of the sin of all people and laid them on Jesus. Let me ask you another question Demas. After you broke that pitcher did you really want to see me?”
“No Dad. I was afraid. I tried to hide for a little while”
“You see son, it is the same way we are with God, our Father. Our sin separates us from Him. It is not that He wants us away from Him. He loves us and always wants us near. But our sin keeps us away, just like your breaking that pitcher kept you away from me.”

“But I don’t ever want to be away from you, and I really don’t want to be away from God.”
“That’s right, Demas, And that is the amazing and wonderful thing that God did for us in Jesus, His Son. Jesus is sinless. He is perfectly righteous. When He died on the cross He took the punishment we deserve, the punishment for all of our sins, and He gave us His perfect righteousness. Because we believe in Jesus, God looks at us as having the perfect righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Now, we can move forward another 1500 years to perhaps the year 1605 in a small Norwegian town, and another conversation between a father and his son. Lars had been baptized in the local Lutheran church as a baby. At age 13 he was now being instructed in Christian doctrine so that he could take the responsibility of the vows his parents had made for him upon himself.
“Dad”, Lars said one afternoon. “The Pastor has talked a lot about Dr. Luther and other teachers who were kicked out of the Catholic Church. Why were they kicked out? My friend Olaf is a Catholic, and he is a nice guy.”

“Well, young man! You sure open up a lot of issues at once. First of all the Catholics are not bad people. They believe in Jesus just like we do. And second, Martin Luther never wanted to have a Lutheran church. He only wanted to correct some things that he saw that the church was doing wrong. There are some important things we need to understand about what God has done for us in Jesus. We have taught you about how all people have a sinful nature, and are separated from God. That includes you and me. But we don’t want to be separated from God. What do you think we can do about it?”

“We can work hard. We can try to be helpful to people.” Lars said, “We can pray and go to church. That pleases God, doesn’t it Dad?”
Well yes, God is pleased when we do good things, But does that really make us good enough to be with our perfect and holy God? You see, when we try to work our way to God we always have the question if we are doing enough to please Him. This was the problem Dr. Luther saw in the church. They were trying to do many things to please God, but could never be sure it was enough.

Now let’s look at the Bible and what St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome. Here, let me find the place. ‘Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. The Righteousness of God Through Faith. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’(3:20-22)

You see son, the Bible tells us that by our own works we can never do enough to please God or come to Him. But God first came to us and did for us what we could never do for ourselves. We can’t make ourselves good enough for God, but He has given us perfect righteousness as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. When God looks at us now, He sees that we are perfectly righteous and clean before Him because we have faith in Jesus, His Son.

Lars was very quiet for a while, but then said, “What a wonderful gift God has given us. I do believe in Jesus. Just wait till I tell the pastor what I’ve learned!”
“Well son, somehow I think He already knows.”

And so the message of God’s love for us, and the righteousness we have before Him, has come down to us through thousands of years of human history. The Reformation saw that that truth had become submerged under politics, bureaucracy, and selfish ambition, which is a danger in every age. But where the light of Christ shines through it changes hearts and lives. We have forgiveness and cleansing through the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. In that we are free, now and forever. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

God’s Right and Left Hand
Sermon: October 22, 2017
Isaiah 45:1-7; I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

The Jewish leaders were always trying to trap Jesus with His words so they would have something by which to accuse Him. This time they thought of a real good one. “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Either a yes or a no would get Him in trouble. If He said “yes pay the tax” the people would be against Him because they hated the Roman poll tax. If He said “No, don’t pay it” the Romans would be against Him, and could charge Him with insurrection. They waited in great anticipation. “Show me a coin”, Jesus said. They brought Him a denarius coin. “Whose picture is this?” He asked them. They said “Caesars”. “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

He had done it again! In the greatest wisdom, He defeated their guile, and forced them to walk away in shame. However, there was even something more that was demonstrated with these words. It is a principle that is brought down to our present day. It is the concept that every Christian believer lives in two Kingdoms, a Kingdom that is spiritual and governed by the Gospel, and a Kingdom that is civil, governed by laws. These are two distinct and separate Kingdoms both established by God for our good. In theology these are sometimes called the right hand and the left hand of God. So this lesson confronts us with our place in the world where we recognize that we live in these two different governments at the same time. They must not be confused, and must be kept separate in our thinking.

Mankind is sinful in nature, having rebelled from God with the first disobedience in the Garden. That sinful nature has been with mankind ever since, and has caused God to govern us in a different way than He would have had we not sinned. Both governments, both kingdoms, are intended to deal with our sinful nature. The civil government, God’s left hand uses laws to keep our sinful nature in check. It keeps people from harming one another, and maintains peace. The spiritual government, God’s right hand, is intended to cleanse and change that sinful nature by the presence of the Gospel. Both are necessary because of sin, and both work for peace – one outward and one inward.

It must be noted that only the baptized believer in Jesus Christ actually live in both Kingdoms. We cannot expect unbelievers, in the secular kingdom, to acknowledge the guidance of the Gospel. They live in the single kingdom of the law.

As Christians, according to Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, we have an obligation to obey the laws that have been established by the civil government, and we respond to the grace offered to us in the cleansing, life changing love of Jesus Christ. But life is never simple. We are continually challenged concerning how we interact with secular authorities, and yet maintain our identity and calling as Christians. We must begin by understanding the purpose of each kingdom, and our responsibility to each.

We are not here to make the country a theocracy, or a Christian nation. We have many roots in the faith and a majority of our people identify themselves as Christian. Though I think the true understanding of Christianity is very shallow. Israel began as a theocracy under the anointed leadership of Moses. But after Moses it soon broke down and the people were asking for a king so that they could be like all the other nations. We cannot get away from our fallen nature which requires the direction of both the law and the Gospel.

Islam today seeks to function as a theocracy, but basically ends up being a a system of laws for both secular and sacred, and really does nothing to change the inward sinful nature. That’s the reason for the Burka covering Islamic women. It is supposed to take away the visual temptation from men, rather than seeking to change the hearts of men so they are able to resist temptation. Christians will not live in a theocracy until Jesus, Himself, returns. Until then we live under the rule of both kingdoms, and participate in both.

God has established both kingdoms and is the Lord over both. This is shown in the Old Testament passage from Isaiah 45 where God takes hold of Cyrus’ right hand to use him for His purpose even though Cyrus is a pagan ruler. Jesus also affirms this when He tells the roman governor, Pilate, that he would have no authority if it were not given from God. This, and all governmental rulers, function as God’s left hand. That does not mean that that individual is either good or bad, or is even the one God would have chosen for that position. We often put people in an office that are of our will, and not God’s perfect will.

Some Christians have a calling to serve in secular government positions. That’s fine. It is a real call from God, but it is not a call to use that position as a platform for evangelism. We are all called by our Lord to let the light of Christ shine through us. A Christian in government lets that light shine by being morally upright, courteous, patient, and considerate. It is the inner person that reflects Christ in whatever job they hold. If that light causes someone to ask about it, then there is a very real opportunity for personal evangelism. The Apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give account of the hope that is within us. (I Peter 3:15) But we cannot expect the secular world to live by the Gospel.

Christians certainly work together with non-Christians in charitable and relief work. Christians serve in the military defending the nation, providing the basis for peace and order. We are not pacifists, though some may honestly and rightly choose that path because of conscience. Christian judges hand down decisions based on the laws of the land. Jesus’ command to love your enemy and do good to those who hate you is not speaking to the government. It is not the role of the secular government to love the terrorist who seeks to destroy lives. It is their job to apprehend them and bring them to justice. Luther said that if a soldier is required to take a life in the line of duty, or a judge required to hand down a death sentence on one found guilty of a capital crime, it is not murder. It is using the sword as an instrument of God’s wrath as Paul instructed in Romans 13:4. It is not a sin that they must confess. We may be very sad that this is necessary in our fallen world, but it is a duty one is called to fulfill.

The church is never called to take up the sword to fight for itself. Christians do not defend the Gospel with the sword. The past history of the Church shows some tragic consequences when it has. Especially as we have learned during the Middle Ages when the church sought to dominate and control the political sphere.
We owe the state what it requires of us for the good of the community, but our task as Christians is to seek to influence the community with lives committed to Jesus. Our task is preaching, teaching, and living Christ. We are a people of hope in the midst of a fallen world.

Some years ago one of our older members wanted to buy a set of flags for the church, an American and a Christian flag. I turned the offer down. I don’t want them here. I know many would not agree with me. Please understand, I am an American. I love the country. I have an American flag flying at my house, but the Church is not American or any other nation. It is the Church of Jesus Christ which transcends all nationalities and all time.

We are in a very difficult age where values and principles that have been understood for thousands of years are no longer seen as true. Governments are passing laws that are contrary to the Christian’s conscience. How are we to be citizens of the secular kingdom when it comes in direct conflict with the values given by our Lord?

Many will write letters to congressmen about various issues. That’s fine, but one must speak on the basis of accepted moral values. We can’t use biblical passages with ones who don’t recognize the Bible as an authority. However, if we know that a leader claims to be Christian, we can write to them as a brother or sister in Christ, asking them to act according to the truth they say they believe from God.

We can peacefully demonstrate as we have had the clear examples of Martin Luther King, Jr, or the various pro-life demonstrations. For that matter, Martin Luther, himself, who only wanted reforms and never wanted a Lutheran Church. As long as we have voices we can speak and live the Gospel in many ways that are not seeking to enter the rule of the secular kingdom.

We must govern our own lives by our Christian conscience and cannot bow to a command of government that is contrary to God’s law. We may have to suffer for our stand, as many in today’s world are. We must stand with Peter and John when the authorities told them to stop preaching. “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”(Acts 4:19-20) Such stands may cost us a job, a home, respect from others, even our life, but such has been the case throughout the history of the Church.

While we are citizens of both kingdoms as long as we are in this earthly life, our first responsibility is to govern our own lives according to the Lord who has redeemed us. We stand on the truth of our Lord without anger or bitterness for any, forgiving and praying for those who oppose us, and willingly bearing the cost that a firm stand for Christ may require.

It as a simple answer from God’s wisdom. “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar, and to God the things that are God’s”. But it opened a far from simple understanding of life. In God’s good grace He guides us by both His left and His right hand, and uses them both for our good. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

Our Real Hope
Sermon: October 15, 2017
Isaiah 25:6-9; Philippians 4:4-13; Matthew 22:1-14

Psalm 23, our Introit Psalm this morning, is the most beloved of all of the 150 Psalms. It is the most used Psalm at funerals, because it is intended to give hope and comfort in a time of sorrow. It is almost always read in the 400 year old language of the King James text. This is what many have memorized, and seem to convey a sense of solidness in language that is suited for grandeur, majesty, and immeasurable grace. It is especially true in its declaration, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.”(vs.4) At the time of a death this is the assurance of life and hope.

The hope of this psalm, and the whole of Scripture is not just for a time of bereavement, but the solid foundation on which we live in the midst of a broken world. The Apostle declares that the hope we have in Christ “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”(Romans 5:5) It is in this hope, garnered by the presence of God’s Spirit within, that we live.

To be sure, we live in a world of tragedy and pain. Storms devastation, shootings, fire, personal and family trials, and the list goes on. There are untold evils brought into the world by Satan. People and nations have given rein to his leadings. Even the forces of nature are tainted by his presence. And we live in the midst of it. Even so, St. Paul will write “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice.”(Phil.4:4) Paul doesn’t have his head in the sand ignoring the world’s evils. In fact, he wrote these words while in a Roman prison under the threat of death. He was expressing a kind of joy that was anchored in the Lord. His view was not his immediate crisis, but the truth of what God would establish in the completion of His plan for mankind. In that hope, Paul would live.

Jesus tells the parable of a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. The image of a wedding banquet is mentioned a number of times, and especially at the culmination of God’s in this age, with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Revelation 21. The banquet in Jesus’ parable was a glorious affair to which many were invited. But Jesus clearly shows the evil that was present. Many snubbed the kings gracious invitation, even mistreating the servants that brought it. Then there was the one man who came in without a proper wedding garment, which was dishonor to the King’s son. Evil would be dealt with, and separated from the good. The banquet would continue with a great celebration.

Isaiah has described this banquet in Chapter 25. “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces;…”(vss.6-8) That is the truth we know, the truth we can hold to, even in the midst of the trials of life.

There must be a separation of the good from the evil. God will not allow Satan to continue forever. He is still, as he has always been, under God’s control. God allows him to reign only within the limits He sets for His purpose. We don’t understand this in the individual happenings of life, but God never loses control, or ceases to work for His good purpose.

There was the man who came into the wedding banquet without the proper wedding garment. He is removed and cast out into the darkness. We might have cut him some slack. After all he was one that the servant had just hauled in off the street. When would he have had time to change clothes, even if he could have afforded to. But the custom of the time was for the King giving the banquet to provide clean long white robes for each of the guests. Not only did this man dishonor the son, he snubbed the King’s gracious gift of a clean garment. He would enter on his own terms or not at all. He faced the judgment his choice brought upon him.

You see, it is that white garment, that clean white robe graciously offered, that is the beginning of the separation of good from evil. It is the separation that takes place within each individual heart. Something has taken place within us by the marvelous grace of God. Because of the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have received the white robe of His righteousness in place of our sin-stained clothes of the world. God has cleansed us. We can stand in the purity of Jesus before Him. We are prepared for a seat at the banquet table. This is an accomplished truth to which we hold, no matter what storms rage.

Paul was more than aware of the storms we face in this world, and the pain they cause. But he also knew the foundation on which we stand in the midst of those storms. It is the gracious life changing work God has done within us that allows us to endure the trials of life. It is, in fact, the trials that strengthen our character for God. He expresses it this way in the Romans 5 passage I used earlier. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”(vss.1-4) There it is again. We come back to hope, a hope that rests on the most solid of foundations, and will see us through all storms.

Paul’s words to the Philippians encourages us to keep our eyes fixed on our source of all hope. Let the eyes of our heart dwell, Paul writes, on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. … And the God of peace will be with you.”

Music also helps us keeps our eyes on our hope in Christ. I have a CD in my car of hymns by George Beverly Shea. One that I love is Jerusalem which I sing along with him. If I didn’t keep the windows closed they would hear me in the next county. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your voice and sing. Hosanna, in the highest. Hosanna, to our King.” Glorious! And the only place this allows our eyes to look is toward our Lord who is the source of all help.

“Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul declares, “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(5:4-7)

Psalm 23 and all of our passages of hope are not an escape from the world, but a truth that allows us to serve to the fullest while we are here. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”… All the days of life, giving strength to endure in the midst of trials, and to be of real service and hope to others.

This is the hope and strength we have in Jesus Christ, and nothing can take it from us. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

What Does It Matter?
Sermon” October 8, 2017
Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 3:4-14; Matthew 21:33-46

We spend a lot of time in church. We teach people about God, and help them to know Him. What does that really matter? Does it really matter if I know God or not? I can be a good person without going to church. And that is true. By worldly standards one can be a very good person. A person can do many good deeds, helping people, even saving lives, without going to church or knowing God. We have seen many of these wonderful acts of bravery, and self sacrifice just in this past month. People have responded in droves to help in Houston, Florida, Mexico City, Puerto Rico, and now Las Vegas. We have seen wonderful acts of human service, and I believe these will be honored by God.

I don’t know if any of these people are Christian, or if they ever go to church, but does that really matter to the people who are saved? If I’m trapped under a pile of rubble I really don’t care if the one digging me out is a Christian or an atheist. You’ve probably heard the story of the man who was trapped on his roof in a flood. He was convinced that God was going to save him. A man in a small boat came by, but the man on the roof told him to go on God was going to save him. Later the fire department rescue boat came. The man on the roof did the same, waved him off saying God was gong to save him. A helicopter flew over and let down a rope ladder down to him. He didn’t take it. He knew God was gong to save him. Finally he slipped off the roof and drowned. At heaven’s gate, he asked the Lord what happened. Why didn’t He save him? The Lord said, I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What else did you want? God uses all these wonderful efforts of self-sacrificing people for the good. As tragic as these events are, God is still at work through people whether they acknowledge Him or not.

So, really does it matter if people are in church? We say that it does. We say that there is more to life than just trying to be a good person and doing some good works. If this were not true, the church would be no different than the local service clubs, or the volunteer fire department. Unfortunately, that is the way many see us, and they don’t need all of the religious trappings we add. So, while we laud and honor those who work so hard in these tragic situations, or even in routine community service for that matter, we still say that God is calling us to something more, something greater, and something that makes a deep change in life now, and even beyond this life.

There are two parables of vineyards in our lessons this morning. One from the Old Testament and one from the New. Both start with a landowner, God, who did everything possible to plant a good vineyard – proper soil, choice vines, protection from predators. In both parables the land owner looked for good fruit, but unfortunately received none. In the first case the vines grew diseased grapes that were worthless. In the second, it was the tenants, the leaders, who were stubborn, self-centered, and refused their obligations. In both, it led to destruction, either of the vineyard or the tenants. What was the land owner, God, looking for?

What is grown in a vineyard? Grapes, of course. And those grapes are not primarily dried to make raisins. They are pressed and fermented to make wine. Both vineyard parables had a wine press. Wine is spoken of often in Scripture. There are many passages that caution against excess and drunkenness, but the main focus is on joy and gladness of heart. Psalm 4 says, “Let the light of your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.”(vss.6-7) And then a prophecy of Isaiah speaking of the consummation God will finally bring about, it is referred to as a great banquet. “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.”(25:6) Jesus provided the best wine at the wedding in Cana, and He speaks of drinking wine anew in the Kingdom. So, the idea of the landowner seeking good wine grapes meant developing something good, something joyous in the hearts of people. This was a deep change of life that the Lord would bring about.

While we laud the heroic efforts we’ve seen in this past month, we know that there is more to helping than meeting the physical needs. Physical needs can certainly never be ignored. They must be dealt with first. James asks, “If one of you says to (a needy person), ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”(2:6) The physical need must be dealt with first, but there is a large area of need that lingers. They come with the questions of the families of the 59 people who died in Las Vegas. And the question of why did a mom and her young kids loose their home in the storm. Or what comfort is there for the parents of a child who was crushed in Mexico’s earthquake, or for the family of the new born who, unexplainably, lived only a few hours. These are all beyond the scope of the those necessary first physical efforts. But there has to be some comfort, some understanding, some hope, something beyond the tragedies of the moment. That is what our Lord seeks to give in the wine of His vineyard. That is why learning to know God matters.

We don’t have all the answers, but we proclaim a God who does. While many things will have to remain a mystery until eternity, we can move forward in hope. God gives us truths that begin to make sense of this broken world in which we live.

In today’s Philippians 3 Epistle Paul speaks of the change the Lord made in his life. After listing all his earthly credentials, which are many and very impressive, he says that he considers them all loss, all refuse, compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, his Lord. He makes the contrast very sharp with the word he uses. When he says that he considers all his wonderful accomplishments as refuse, the original word is dung, excrement. For Paul the value of knowing Christ far surpasses any honors or accomplishments the world provides. What it meant for him was a complete makeover of his life. That change in his heart showed him who God was, and who he was in the light of God’s glory.

He saw his own sinful nature compared to God’s perfect holiness. He saw that that sinful nature in the hearts of mankind was the reason for all the strife, war, and hatred that exists between people. He understood that rebellion from God brought all of the disasters mankind is subject to. And he saw the great love of God that caused Him to enter this world with the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. Paul saw clearly that he had been like one of the people trapped in the rubble of an earthquake with no way out. It was only the Rescuer, Jesus Christ, who could reach him and free him. That changed his life forever.

Until the Lord comes, there will continue to be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines, in various places. There will still be the need for personal sacrifice and selfless giving on the part of many people. But what is ultimately needed is the hope that pain and suffering is not all there is, that there will come a day when every tear is wiped away and all sighing cease. This is not a hope that can be found in psychology, technology, medicine, or the strength of any human arm. That hope is only found in Jesus Christ. It is what we have to share here in Christian support of one another, in the wonderful truths of God’s Word, and the gracious assurance of our forgiveness and cleansing in the Body and Blood of our Saviour. That is a hope, strength, and peace that goes beyond all physical help offered. And that really does matter. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

The Power of Absolution
Sermon: October 1, 2017
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-18; Matthew 21:23-32

We go through a simple exercise every Sunday we gather here. I invite you to stand and recognize that you are coming before God’s altar. We declare that all we do is done in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are invited to kneel and confess your sins using the words printed in the bulletin. Is that all meaningless rote? Is it heaping up empty words that Jesus tells us not to do? It can be, but I hope it isn’t.

When we enter this sanctuary on Sunday morning, we are here to do serious business. We are coming into the presence of Almighty God. Not that God isn’t everywhere present, but this place is set aside and dedicated for the worship of our God. We call it a Sanctuary, and not just an Auditorium. We have an altar in the front separated by a chancel rail. It is from here that God speaks in Word and Sacrament. It is separated from the rest of the room symbolizing divine holiness and separateness.

We begin our service with the confession of sins recognizing the fallenness of our human nature, and how unfit we are to come into God’s presence alone. The Israelites understood this as they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses was on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. The mountain was shrouded with a thick cloud and fire. No one dared to touch even the foot of the mountain lest they die. Such was the holiness of God and the realization of the peoples sinful nature.

Do we really believe that we can approach a perfect, holy, and almighty God in any way we feel like? I’m afraid that today’s world has lost much of its sense of God’s holiness, and above all our own sinful nature. We have become so accustomed to the phrase “well, nobody’s perfect” that we excuse ourselves too easily. We know God is almighty, but we like to say that he is a God of love who wouldn’t condemn anyone. That is not the testimony of God’s Word. The New Testament book of Hebrews calls us to “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”(12:28-29)

So what we do at the beginning of our service is by no means a rote exercise. It is humbling ourselves before our holy God, and laying before His mercy the things God’s Spirit calls to mind from the preceding week that were an offense to Him. It is not that God is nit picking us throughout the week looking for every curse word, every angry gesture, every evil thought we had about someone. But the things we do wrong separate us from Him, and God really doesn’t want any separation.

You understand separation. If you have an argument with your husband, wife, or close friend, you are separated from them for a time until that disagreement is settled. The young man in today’s Gospel story bad mouthed his father. He was asked to work in the family vineyard that day, but he refused. He and his father weren’t on good terms until the son had a change of heart about his response and did go to work. It is only by repentance and a change of heart that the separation is removed.

Never underestimate the separation that has existed between ourselves and our Holy God. “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” And the few dozen things that have come up in this past week have proven the truth of our statement.

But we do know that God is a God of love. We believe that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. All that is most certainly true, but remember the cost. From the time of the first rebellion in the Garden, God has worked to bridge the separation that man and woman put between themselves and God.

The standard teaching in our educational institutions that mankind has evolved from some chemical slime, and that we are descendants of apes Is false. This theory, and it is only a theory, has been shown scientifically to hold many errors that educators and institutions don’t want to recognize. Darwinism has been disastrous to the self-image of many young people, and is a direct affront to the truth of God. “It is He who has made us and we are His.”(Psalm 100:4) I am not too concerned about the chronology of prerecorded history. I am very concerned with the truth, that at some point in all eternity, God created the cosmos, a planet called earth, and on that planet He made mankind, perfect and without sin. He wanted this new creation in fellowship with Himself, and gave them all they needed for life. Yet of their choice they wanted more.

They listened too the lying voice of the devil and defied God’s good command. In that defiance, in that sin, they separated themselves from their Creator. In that separation they brought all manner of problems upon themselves, and upon all mankind to follow. We see this clearly today when we choose to ignore the clear truths of our Lord. God did not want the separation they had made. He loved them, and us, with an everlasting love. He gave them a promise that one day an offspring of the woman would come to crush the head of the evil one who had led mankind astray.

It took thousands of years, and God’s painstaking work with the Jewish people in order to bring the offspring He had promised. God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, was born to a humble teenaged girl in a small village of northern Israel. We know well the story of Jesus’ life, His ministry, His death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. The events of this brief 33 year span of life had been in preparation for thousands of years. Even before creation, the Holy Trinity had determined a plan of redemption in the event that mankind should separate themselves from God.

God cannot wink at sin. He cannot pretend that it is not so bad. He is not a grandfather who can let little things slide by. He is holy. His perfect justice demands that every sin, all sin, be punished. But that is a debt we cannot pay. God determined that He would take that punishment and lay it on His own Son. Jesus would take the punishment, the very sentence of death, the eternal separation from God, that you and I and all mankind justly deserve, into His own being. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of all mankind’s sins, receiving the full judgment of God’s wrath. Beyond the horrible physical pain and degradation of a Roman cross, He bore the sentence of death and hell we deserve.

Having made satisfaction for God’s perfect justice, He rose again, overcoming the curse of death for all time. We rejoice in the assurance of the eternal life He brings with His glorious resurrection from the grave, but we must never forget the price He had to pay for us to have that life.

So the words at the beginning of our worship are far from meaningless repetition. I don’t know what you have done, said, or thought this week in sin against our Lord. But you brought it here this morning and laid it before God at this altar. Because of what Jesus Christ has done for you, I am allowed to stand before you in His stead, declaring to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.

You are free. The separation between you and your God has been removed. Because of the blessed words of the Absolution, you can go in peace and serve the Lord. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

It’s Not Fair!

Sermon: September 24, 2017
Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-30; Matthew 20:1-16

“It’s Not Fair!” How many times have we heard those words, especially from some of our younger ones who don’t get what they want or think they deserve. “But Johnny’s mom lets him do it.” Both as youth and adulthood we come up against life’s unfairness. So it was in Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard. I read about five different commentators writing on this text in Matthew 20. They all had a different take on what Jesus was trying to say.
One wanted to discuss the unfairness of current immigration policy, and the struggle of minimum wages for workers. Others discussed the impossibility of running a business in the way Jesus describes hiring and paying employees. Another said it was about not coveting the good fortune of another. Obviously this parable has not set well with many, either then or now.

If one wanted to work, the common practice of the day was to go out in the morning to the market place where land owners would come to hire men to work their land for the day. They agreed on the wage, which was usually a denarius, a common days wage. In the parable the first workers agree on the arrangements and went to work. The land owner went out again at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, 9am, noon, and 3pm, hired others that he found in the market place. Well, OK, that is not too unreasonable. It was probably a large vineyard and he wanted to get the crop in today. But then Jesus said that the owner went out at the eleventh hour, one hour before normal quitting time, and found some others that he also hired. He had told all these later workers that he would pay whatever was right.

Some commentators speculated that these last workers were a slothful bunch and really weren’t that interested in showing up to try to get work. Yet the problem with the parable comes at the close of the day when it is pay time. He lines them up in reverse order from the time they were hired, and has everyone receive exactly the same amount, a full days wage. What do you do with that? It strikes right at our center where we holler with those first workers, “It’s not fair!”.

You have seen those images on TV or the newspaper of the line that forms at Best Buy or one of the other retailers when a new IPhone is to go on sale. People camp out all night waiting for the store to open. The line stretches back over a block. Can you imagine what would happen if the store manager came out holding two brand new Iphones, the only two the store was allotted, he walked to the back of the line and sold them to the last people there. He probably would not have made it back to the safety of the store. It’s not fair!

And, very true, it is not fair. As the commentators I mentioned earlier said, both workers and corporate managers have every reason to be offended by this parable. But the offense is just the point of the parable. Jesus began by saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like….” As with others of Jesus stories, this is a kingdom parable. It is about the presence of God’s kingdom coming in the midst of human life. All of the preaching of John the Baptist, and then of Jesus, was “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. With the birth of Jesus the Kingdom of God was visibly breaking into the midst of human life, corrupt and fallen human life. What does it mean when the truth and values of God’s Kingdom enter into a world that is run by the opposite values?

With the entrance of that first rebellion from God in the Garden all life was changed. Men’s hearts became corrupt, and every atom of the world order was tainted. Through the millennia until the coming of Christ, mankind had followed deeply engraved ways of life that were not in harmony with God and His kingdom. It is why God chose to work with one people, Israel, gave them the laws at Sinai, and sent them Prophets time after time. He was trying to curb their wayward hearts and turn them back to Himself. It was always the “I want”, “I need”, “I deserve” that got in the way. It is no wonder then, when Jesus brought the kingdom into people’s midst, there was conflict. It is why the early preaching began with the call to “repent”, to turn around one hundred and eighty degrees and go in a new direction, a direction away from the values of self and back toward the kingdom. The kingdom works by a different standard, one that often strikes us as unfair in our human terms – like turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemy, and doing good to those who hate us, going the second mile, forgiving seventy times seven.

These things are not fair by worldly standards, but they are what love requires, and love is the supreme value of the kingdom. Love doesn’t mean that we are door mats for others to walk over, or so gullible as to accept everyone’s story at face value. It does mean that we set ourselves aside with its justice and fairness questions, and seek to respond to others in a way that is for their good. Putting aside personal questions of justice and fairness takes ourselves out of the equation, and puts another person in.

If we want to talk about justice and fairness maybe that is what we work for in seeking the good of others who are being oppressed or denied.

Another thing we must remember about Jesus’ kingdom parables is its vastness. The kingdom of God is vast beyond comprehension. It cannot be contained within the scope of one parable. There are seven different kingdom parables in just the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, and others throughout the Gospels. Each containing an aspect of the kingdom or expanding an aspect already given. So, this parable of workers in the vineyard is not about fair wages, or good business practices. It is about grace, God’s grace reaching out beyond hours worked, or personal worthiness.

We have talked so much here and in our Bible studies about the wrongness of the balance scale approach to God. But we understand that! It makes complete sense in our world. If I try to be a good person, and do good things for others, then the scale is clearly tipped in my favor – far more so than some other nasty people I know. It makes sense. It’s fair, but it is not grace.

Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost.(Luke 19:10) Jesus frequently ministered to people whom society considered unworthy of the Kingdom. This was an affront to the good Pharisees and faithful teachers of the law. He told story after story that offended their legal sense of what was right. They railed against Him, and finally put Him to death. But it was in that death the greatest offense was brought to the kingdom of human values.

The cross of Jesus Christ remains the greatest offense the world has ever seen. It stands in the midst of all human life declaring our judgment. It is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t care if you are the wealthiest and most powerful, or if you are a homeless beggar. The cross doesn’t care if you are the most learned of people, or a saint with a long list of good works. The cross declares your guilt before God. It declares your judgment – you are deserving of death and eternal separation from God. That cross is the greatest offense to your personal pride, sense of self worth, sense of justice, and all you consider fair. It doesn’t care if you bore the heat of the day or come in at the last hour.

But it is the One who hangs on that cross who is the owner of all the land. It is He who has chosen to pay you with His own life, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The wage you deserve, whether first or last, is death, but the denarius you receive is the gracious gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And that is supremely unfair, but it is pure grace and the greatest joy of our life. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

 

Seventy Times Seven
Sermon: September 17, 2017
Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness is an action that is central to the Christian message. You have heard the declaration of the forgiveness of all your sins when I spoke the words this morning. “As a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” Because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ you have forgiveness, cleansing, and a new life. That is huge! In Jesus Christ you and I can stand, clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, before Almighty God our Father. That is the Good News that has been declared to us. It is a pure gift of God’s amazing grace.

We know that, because we have received this great gift, we are to extend it to others through our words and actions. We share the Good News with those in our circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and even casual contacts. In this way the message of God’s grace is spread throughout the world.

Jesus’ disciple were learning this. They were continually asking Him questions about how they were to be “fishers of men”. On one particular day they wanted to know about forgiveness. Peter asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?”(vs.21) Understanding this question in the Jewish context is important. The rabbis taught that people should forgive twice, maybe a third time for an offense, but not after that. Peter knew that Jesus thought big and always expected more, so he said, “As many as seven times?” But Jesus’ answer went far beyond even Peter’s expectation. Jesus said, “I tell you not seven times but seventy seven times”. Other translations will way seventy times seven. And that is not just four hundred and ninety times, it is beyond ones ability to keep track. You see, that becomes the first point in the lesson. If one continues to keep track of offenses that is not forgiveness.

Let me ask you, do you struggle with some sin that continues to reoccur in your life, as hard as you may try to overcome it? As much as you may hate it, you still seem to give in to it, and must return to the Lord for forgiveness. Be honest, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Are we not glad that our Lord doesn’t keep a tally of our sins? “Well, there you go. You just hit number seventy eight. Too bad fellow. Your out.” The Lord keeps no tally of sins and neither should we.

To emphasize the depth of God’s forgiveness Jesus tells the parable of the Unrighteous Steward. You heard the Gospel lesson. The Steward was forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents. Jesus intentionally made this an astronomically large number that was equivalent to a hundred and fifty thousand years of the average salary of the day. Obviously, the Steward was very grateful for such generosity, but it should have carried through in mercy for his fellow servant who owed him less than one year’s wage. But he did not. The parable ends with the King reimposing the debt on the Steward, and punishing him severely. Jesus concludes the parable by bringing it back to us. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”(vs.35) This is not a threat, but simply an emphasis on how central and necessary forgiveness is for each follower of Jesus Christ.

For us, God’s forgiveness is both extravagant and precious. It is not based on our deserving it. And that, too, is a key for our forgiving another. We are called to forgive even if the other is not worthy of it, or has not even asked for it. Remember Jesus forgave those who were still spitting on Him at the foot of the cross. Since forgiveness is such a central part of our life with both God and others, let’s consider it in more specific terms.

First, we need to be willing to ask forgiveness, and not just of God but from others if we have offended them. This means being aware of our own behavior, and how we interact with people. If you feel you’ve spoken harshly, offended, or cut someone off, be willing to go and ask for forgiveness. Tuesday I was at a pastor’s meeting in Walkersville. I was in conversation with another pastor and something caught his attention that he wanted to take care of. He came back to me later and asked my forgiveness for cutting me short in the conversation. I really wasn’t even aware of it, but he felt the need to apologize to me and to one or two others. We shouldn’t be overly sensitive, but we do need to be aware of how our words and actions are received by others.

If someone has offended you, be willing to speak to them directly. Last weeks Gospel in Matthew 18:15to17 gave steps for dealing with an offense. The purpose is always for reconciliation as much as possible. Even God’s judgment on Israel deliver through the prophets, as harsh as it was at times, had the purpose of turning hearts back to Him.

If an offense has occurred, don’t discuss it with anyone else. Don’t gossip. Keep in mind Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians to speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(4:29) “Is what I am saying to this other person or group about someone not here, is it beneficial for that person or is it just getting it off my chest? We do certainly share requests for prayer for others, but Paul’s words to the Ephesians are always our guide.

Then we understand that forgiveness is a decision and not a feeling. Feelings are fickle. They can come and go. Forgiveness is a decision we stick to. It is a decision to give up any right to judge or condemn another. Joseph, in our Old Testament lesson today, had the right and the reason to punish his brothers for what they did to him. They clearly meant what they did to hurt him, but Joseph’s decision was to leave it all in God’s hands, and further, to rejoice in the good God brought about from their action. Forgiveness doesn’t deny the offense, but says “ I choose to hold nothing against you”.

Forgiveness doesn’t wait for one to come and ask for it, and it doesn’t mean that the offender is worthy of it. In a sense, forgiveness takes the offender out of the equation. As hard as it may be, forgiveness is first an act between ourselves and God. Any unforgiveness, any grudges held, any bitterness we hold toward anyone, no matter how small, is a block between us and God. And we really want nothing separating us from our gracious Lord.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we are automatically best friends with the offender. It may clear the air, restoring the relationship depending on how the forgiveness is received. But even if it does not, we are still to be cordial with that person in any contact, to wish them well in their life, and to pray for them.

Obviously, there are many different situations in human life, and offenses vary in degree. It is why Peter was looking for an end, for an escape clause, to end the obligation to forgive. But Jesus didn’t give that option. The last of the four steps to reconciliation in Matthew 18 is to put the unrepentant offender out of the church. Sometimes a separation is necessary, but it is not done with malice. It is putting that one into the hands of God, just as Joseph did with his brothers. It is separating them with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to work in their heart. The Hebrew verb for “forgive” conveys an action. It is an action verb meaning “to take” or “to lift up”. We take our hands off of judgment, and lift that one up into the care of God.

In a broken and sin filled world, frictions between people are inevitable. But those frictions should not be allowed to separate us from the grace of our Lord. And if we really consider the parable of the Unrighteous Steward, we realize that the debt we’ve been forgiven is so far greater than any debt owed to us. In humility we receive this greatest of all gifts, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus Christ, and we seek to extend that gift seventy times seven to others. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

Assisted Suicide
or
Lord, Help Me To Die
Sermon: September 3, 2017
Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

I will admit that “Assisted Suicide” is a terrible title for a sermon. Especially since we believe that life is sacred from conception to natural death. It is why I added the subtitle “Lord, Help Me To Die”. I hope you will see with me how this applies to our Gospel text this morning.

Peter had just made his great confession of faith. “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.” Today’s text tells us that from then on “Jesus began to explain to His disciple that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and the he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”(16:21) “No! No! This isn’t right. We’ve just understood that the Son of Almighty God, the long awaited Messiah, the Christ, is standing in our midst. He can’t be mistreated and killed!”

Peter, good old impetuous Peter, took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Well, it takes guts, or lack of good sense to begin to rebuke Jesus in the first place, but he always had the habit of plunging in where angels fear to tread. It was a characteristic Jesus would later use in Peter’s ministry once the Lord had changed His heart. That was the key. It would take a heart change to fully understand what Jesus was saying.

The whole concept of death and resurrection was foreign to the Jews. The disciple has seen Jesus raise a couple of dead people, but that was just an extension of His healing ministry, but the death of Jesus, Himself, made no sense. Why would He talk about being killed and then rising from the dead? Jesus needed to be corrected. This would not fulfill the prophecy of a descendent of David sitting on the throne of Israel.

I’m not sure that many Christians today really understand what death and resurrection means. Oh, we are familiar with and believe in the truth that by Jesus dying on the cross in atonement for our sins, and being raised to life on Easter Sunday morning, we have eternal life through faith in Him. We have been reconciled to God, and are able to stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The free gift of our reconciliation to God is a treasure beyond measure. But there is even more in the concept of death and resurrection that Jesus was trying to open for them.

Jesus had to correct Peter in rather harsh terms. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”(vs/23) Was Peter Satan? Certainly not, but he was taking up a point that is central to the devil’s opposition to Jesus. The devil hated God’s eternal plan for mankind. He didn’t understand how God could love these little human vermin. Any plan for their redemption was abhorrent to him. And really, when we fully understand what death and resurrection means, we don’t like it much better. That’s way Jesus said Peter was taking up the things of men.

But Jesus went on. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”(vs.24) Ok, we’ve heard that and understand it. We know that following Jesus means a change in life, and dealing with some things we would rather not do. Dr. Clayton Schmit of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary put it this way, “We serve on boring church committees, bearing our cross without complaint. We give more than we think is prudent and hope it doesn’t put a dent in our lifestyle. We help out those people who annoy us, thinking we are bearing a burden. The list of little crosses is endless.”

We’ve all heard, or perhaps used, the expression, “I guess this is the cross I have to bear”. And there are certainly larger and more difficult crosses that we do bear in life – the death of a love one, a financial disaster, the loss of a home to a flood. These are all very serious, and we do bear them in the strength the Lord supplies. But Jesus didn’t stop with this thought about bearing a cross. True cross bearing only happens when it leads to death.

He said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”(vs.25) Now He is talking about ourselves dying. To find our true life we have to die for Jesus. That is getting pretty serious. It doesn’t sound like a place we want to go. Each week we pray for the Christians who are being persecuted and dying for their faith in Christ. Is Jesus saying we all have to go out and be martyrs? No. It will be true for some, but there is more than one way of dying. Dying to one’s self, to one’s own nature, is the calling for every follower of Jesus.

This is a progressive and most difficult death. It is giving up to Jesus something we hold important in life. And it is something we can’t accomplish on our own.

We read from the Prophet Jeremiah this morning. He was an obedient and powerful speaker for the Lord. He spoke to the people of Judah at a time they were being taken into captivity by Babylon. He had to tell them they would be enslaved for years to come. Nothing he was called to do was pleasant. In chapter fifteen he gets rather fed up, and begins to have his own pity party. “Lord, I did all you told me to do, and look now how I’m suffering. Look at all the sacrifices I’ve made for you. Why is my pain unending?” How does God respond? Not with very comforting words as we might hope. Rather, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words you will be my spokesman.”(vs.19) This is chapter fifteen. Jeremiah has another thirty seven chapters of his life before he finishes his course with the Lord. But the Lord assures him that if he yields himself to God, if he is willing to die to this part of his own nature, God will strengthen him and be with him. “‘For I am with you to rescue and save you,’ declares the Lord”(vs.20)

What God was saying to Jeremiah, and what Jesus was saying to the disciple, is that followers of the Lord are called to progressively die to themselves, and be raised to a new kind of life in Him. The old way of life with a Christian veneer is not all the Lord wants for us. We certainly have our salvation. That has been won for us on Calvary’s cross. We have the assurance of our eternal life with God. But time and again, Scripture speaks of salvation not as a one time event, but an ongoing process of growth in our Lord. And Jesus is saying that growth is a progressive dying and rising with Him. He called the disciples, He is calling us, to die to our old nature and be raised in Christ’s new nature. It is the truth we proclaim with every baptism, and it is a truth we are called to live daily.

When we speak of dying to ourselves no one really expects to die physically, but something does die in us when we are willing to yield to Jesus, to give up control of an aspect of life, and allow Him to change us.

You’ve probably heard accounts of a swimmer who gets in trouble in the ocean off one of our resort beaches. The life guard goes out to rescue them. The swimmer is flailing around so much that it is difficult for the life guard to help. It is only when the swimmer give up control that he can be saved.

Dr. Schmit again commented, “Here is both the challenge and the good news in this text. If we follow Jesus, we will be seriously called to bear certain crosses and lose hold of our lifestyle, if not our life. Yet, in all our weakness and human mindedness, it is Jesus’ own death on the cross that enables us to do what we cannot.”

Jesus knew both the pains and the joys of this life. His path led Him to the cross. It is to that cross He calls us to come. The more of our life we are willing to lay at the cross, the more we find His strength working within.

Dying to self is never easy, but it is where He strengthens us to bear the burdens of discipleship. We do nothing on our own, but he can do much through us. Without him, Peter was no rock, but a stumbling block. With him, Peter was the church. With him, we are not powerless to deny ourselves but able to bear all he may give. Lloyd Ogilvie, a Presbyterian pastor and former Chaplain of the Senate, once put it this way: “We say, ‘But, Lord, I cannot.’ And God says, ‘I’m glad to hear you say that. Through you, I can.'”

Our life in Christ is never about what we can accomplish, but what God can accomplish through us. For Him to work, we, like the swimmer, need to yield our will to His control. This is never easy and it doesn’t happen quickly. There are things we are not yet ready to give up. Yet, each area we able to let go of is an area where we die to ourselves and come alive to our Lord.

Jesus is patient and gracious, and our morning’s Gospel text ends with standing in the glorious presence of our Lord. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

A Firm Foundation
Sermon: August 27, 2017
Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20

What did we do here this morning when we gathered around this piece of furniture sitting in the front of our sanctuary? It is a wooden stand with a bowl of water in it. Called a font. It occupies a very prominent place in this room. We had the family bring little Reagan here. We said a lot of words, prayed a couple of prayers, and poured water over the baby’s head. This is an action we’ve done here many times. Most recently little Will, and then with Darrin. I mentioned at the funeral on Tuesday that we did this to Bill Allen in 1998, and their were others before and since. So it must be something we consider important.
We call it a baptism. It is not a Christening. We Christen ships. We baptize because it is an instruction from Jesus that we follow. He said, “Go teach, preach, and baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(Matthew 28:19) Further, it is not just a symbol of something Jesus did, but an act that conveys a real blessing. While we bring Reagan, and we pour the water on him, it is God, Himself who does the action. It is the water along with the promise of God’s Word that gives the very real gifts of forgiveness of sins, deliverance from the power of the devil, and eternal salvation to all who believe. It is called “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit”. (Titus3:5) This is a real gift of God that was given to this little one here today, and has been given to each of us who have been baptized. Even if we don’t remember that time in infancy, it was real, and those gifts were given by God.
But Reagan is a little kid. He doesn’t realize any of this. Even so, by the parents and godparents bringing him here today they have established a foundation that is intended to last throughout his life. It is a foundation upon which they and we must build. In today’s Gospel reading we heard Jesus ask the disciples who people were saying He was? A question very appropriate for today’s world, and one that gets many answers. Jesus is a nice guy. A good moral teacher. An old time prophet. A perfect example of love. But none of those answers are helpful. None of those give the whole truth or provide a solid foundation for life. It was the disciple, Peter, who answered the question correctly. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(Mt.16:16) And Jesus responded saying that it was upon this rock that His church would be built. The foundation for life, a life that can withstand the storms, is one that holds to this confession. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus once told a story about two houses. One that was built upon a rock foundation and the other built upon sand. It was only the one on rock that stood when the storms came. We are giving Reagan that foundation set upon solid rock. It is why, before the baptism, we asked the parents and sponsors those pointed questions.
* Do they believe (and I would add we) that man’s nature is corrupt and evil, and he is guilty before God and due His judgment. And that they want to be delivered from that guilt;
*  Do they believe that it is Jesus who gave His life to redeem us from sin?;
* Do they want to live in a way that renounces the devil, the glories of the world, and sinful desires of the flesh?;
* Do they believe in the orthodox Christian faith as expressed in the Apostle’s Creed?,
* And do they desire to live a Christ honoring life?
We are all saying two things with each answer. That this is what they believe personally, and that it is the truth they want to use to build upon Reagan’s foundation.
When we are confronted by Jesus in the way the disciples were with that pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?”, the answer alters life forever. You see Jesus in not just a nice addition that makes an already good life a little better. He is the content of life, the One from whom the best of life flows. It is always the difference between a house that is built upon rock or on sand.
A house being built is planned carefully. It is constructed step by step with good materials. Reagan’s family has already begun that building process today by laying the first course of bricks with the confession of their own faith. It is upon that the rest of his house will be built. This is what sets the daily tone and direction of the family. And also for Reagan’s life when he can make that confession his own.
A second course on the foundation is putting that faith into daily use by grace at meals, prayers and reading Bible stories with the child, and husband and wife learning to pray and read the Bible together. This faith is not just for children. Jesus is a real and living companion for life. Our desire is to learn to walk with Him during each of our days.
Another course of brick is being a part of a local church. Can someone worship God outside of the church? Of course. I do it all the time. But I’ve also found that most of those who use this argument usually don’t. We are not lone Christians. We need the strength, support, and fellowship of other believers. Even more, we need the cleansing, growth, and assurance that corporate worship gives. The Apostle Paul said that we are members of one body, and that we belong to one another. We each have different gifts that we bring for the strength of the whole body.
The world is a scary place. Derek can tell you something about that from his time in Baltimore city. We need the prayers and support of one another. But more than that. When one is building a house they are not focusing so much on the difficulty of the work, but rather on the joy the family will have in occupying that house. The same is true in the house we are building on the foundation of our confession of faith. What we are building for little Reagan, what we are continuing to build in our own lives, is a very joy-filled place. It is a place of laughter and good fun for all who enter.
I  am often surprised when I hear some of the things our kids remember from their growing years. Even some of the more difficult spots that come to mind are spoken of as good. They are things we shared together, prayed about together, and grew in the love we have for each other and for our Lord.
Paul talks about this construction project in his letter to the Corinthian Church. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”(3:9-11)
We share together as God’s fellow workers, building on the foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

What is it that we need to be reminded of?
Sermon: August 20, 2017
Isaiah 56:1-8; Romans 11:1,2, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28

           On Wednesday I wrote some thoughts in my Good Morning message about the present emphasis on removing statues of confederate Civil War leaders from public grounds. I got a number of comments back offering various points of view. The issue has been highlighted especially this past weekend by the violence in Charlottsville, Virginia where there was a clash between white supremacists and those opposing them, ending in a tragic death. The issue of whether or not we should remove monuments is not a simple one, and it raises a number of questions.
Very basic to begin with is whether these confederate leaders were good men or bad? Were they honorable or dishonorable? Certainly they saw themselves as honest men seeking to do an honorable thing. Was the central issue preserving slavery, or was it about preserving the right of states to set their own direction? One of my friends from Texas wrote that “Lee and Jackson were men of honor and character fighting to stand with their states.” Even today there are cessionist movements in a number of states in the north, south, and west with groups seeking to be free of national government influence. States rights versus federal rights has always been part of the discussion since the founding of our country. If the issue were just whether one people has the right to make slaves of another people it would be fairly simple to decide since slavery is universally condemned. But it isn’t just a single issue. Then there is the question of freedom of speech, and whether there are limits to its extent? So things are not always cut and dry.
I received a thoughtful note in response to my Good Morning from Darrin Ochs. I had commented in my Good Morning message that “maybe we need the monuments to remind us of what man is capable of, and that we can still commit those evils in small and sometimes large ways.” Darrin responded by writing, “Isn’t that what museums are for? If someone had suggested that we build a monument to Hitler instead of the Holocaust Museum to serve as a reminder of man’s capability (todo evil), could you imagine the outrage? … Growing up around Washington, D.C., I was raised with the idea that Heroes get a monument. Bad guys end up in the Museum. Probably too simplistic an approach, but what do we really need reminders of?” Thus, my thanks to Darrin for the title of this message. “What is it that we need to be reminded of?”
We are confronted by numerous complex issues in our world. There are good honest people on both sides. And many of those good honest people claim the name of Christ as Saviour, just as they did on both sides during the Civil War. What is it that we need to be reminded of?
This very diverse world is beset with may evils. Consider the ISIS attack just a few days agoin Barcelona. Spain that killed 14 people. It is one thing to hold and express an opinion, even one we would consider bigoted and caustic, but quite another to act upon that opinion in a violent way. What is it that we need to be reminded of?
In today’s Gospel Jesus and the disciples go to the north west of Galilee outside of Israel’s border into Gentile territory. Now there’s an opposition movement! Jews and Gentiles had nothing todo with each other. In fact, when a Samaritan town wouldn’t receive Jesus, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon them. (Luke 9:54) Jesus had to chastize them for that attitude. When the Greek women in this account kept crying after Jesus for help, the disciples just wanted to get rid of her. It almost seems like Jesus did too with His response about not throwing bread to the dogs, but I think that was rather a test of the woman’s faith, which she passed with flying colors. As the account continued, Jesus saw the depth of the woman’s faith, a depth to which He always responded no matter from whom it came, and He delivered the woman’s daughter from the demon. Jesus was looking for a measure of faith, while the disciple were looking for one’s they considered worthy. What was it that they needed to be reminded of?
It is striking to think about the things that separate us. We want to be with people we are comfortable with, people we consider like us. Look at any gathering. Friends stay in their friend groups. Men gather in one corner of the room, women in another. Ethnic groups tend to gather with their own people rather than mixing together with others. That is human nature, especially fallen human nature. We meet someone with multiple piercings, tattoos, and orange hair we immediately have an opinion, often negative, and usually go the other way. God made the world in a very diverse manner. That is why we used the little song with the children this morning – “red, and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”. What is it that we need to be reminded of?
Life is complex, and we are all different, but we are dealing with two different issues. One is the beliefs and opinions we hold, and the other is how we decide to act on those beliefs. My son-in-law ,John, also responded to my morning message and summed up the problem pretty well. He wrote:
“I really struggle with this. Not when seeing poor people, or people from other cultures, people of a skin color or tone of voice that is different from my own. Or different faiths. And gay people. That seems to come easy for me. It’s the people who want to marginalize, minimize, even eliminate those people. The bigots, the hatemongers, the judgers, the violently ignorant, those who lust for power, the self-righteous, those who want their share and yours, those who feel this is their country and everyone else is a guest, on and on. These people fill me with anger. I will always be resistant to their message and their crusade. I will never become tolerant and patient with that. But they are God’s children, too. Their willful harm of others, in all the ways they bring harm, makes it hard for me to love them. And that is my failing, not theirs.”
We are called to love our enemies. And be sure, such as these that John lists are enemies, enemies of what God’s word teaches and what He wants for all people. What is it that we need to be reminded of in dealing with such as these?
We can and should hate the message of White Supremacists, Neo Nazis, and the like. Regardless of what they claim, they have nothing to do with the Christian faith. Jesus hated. We always emphasize that Jesus loves all people, and that is certainly true. But when Jesus entered the Temple and saw the money changers and those selling animals, He knotted a rope driving them all out. He hated what they had done to His Father house of prayer. When Jesus went into the synagogue and wanted to heal a cripple on the Sabbath, the text says that He looked at the leaders with anger because of their hardness of heart. He hated their attitude of denying a good act because it conflicted with their strict laws. Jesus hated the attitudes that blocked people from receiving the grace God wants to bestow on all.
So we need to be reminded that God created all people, red and yellow, black and white, and that His love extends to all equally.
We need to be reminded that we are all sinful in nature and apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ we are all lost.
We need to be reminded that we are called to humility before God, and given the charge to count others better than ourselves.(Philippians 2:3)
We need to be reminded that loving our enemy mean that we do not respond in kind to their actions, that we guard our own hearts, motives and actions, and that we seek to forgive as we have been forgiven.
We need to be reminded that we are our brothers keeper and need to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
We need to be reminded to pray. Pray for those in authority to be guided by God’s wisdom and not their own; to pray for our enemies that God’s Spirit may touch and soften their hearts; pray for those who are suffering because of hatred that they would be comforted and find strength in their faith; pray for wisdom for ourselves to know how to think and act according to our faith in Christ; and pray for our Lord’s soon return for He alone will bring peace to the world.
And we need to be reminded that when God came to earth in human form He chose to occupy a Jewish body, one of the most outcast groups of all time. He really was telling us something we need to remember. Amen.
Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and mind sever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen

 

Take Courage It is I
Sermon: August 13, 2017
Job 38:4-18; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

       Each week we read three lessons from the Scripture using the lectionary series appointed for the church. Over a three year cycle we have read through almost all of the Bible. We believe Scripture reading should be a central act of our worship service. The Bible holds a central place in our faith. We say that it is God’s revealed word. It is food for our souls, a balm to sooth our pain, a guide for our understanding, a sword for our confrontation with evil, a judge for our own sins, and above all the word of God’s redemptive love for His people.
This year beginning with the Advent Season we have been reading through the Gospel of Matthew. We have followed Jesus from His birth, to His baptism by John in the Jordan, His temptations, and the beginning of His public ministry. We’ve read of the crowds flocking around Him, the jealousy and animosity of the Jewish leaders, and the various things He said and taught. Now, in Matthew 14 a multitude of over 5000 is fed with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Today’s lesson is something of an interlude, a 12 hour period, where we see something of the dynamics going on within Jesus and His disciples.
It begins after the crowd had been fed, Jesus dismissed them to return to their homes, and told the disciples to start back across the Sea of Galilee. I say it is a twelve hour period because the text tells us that when the disciple’s boat was in trouble it was the fourth watch of the night. By the Roman reckoning that would be between 3 and 6am in the morning. Jesus’ dismissal of the crowd was in the early evening, say 5 or 6pm. So about a twelve hour period. I call attention to this because when we read the Bible things seem to happen quickly, while, in fact, hours or days elapse between verses. We will see why this is important and what it says about the people involved. We get a glimpse into their hearts making God’s Word so much more real and relevant for us.
The account begins with Jesus going up on the mountain to pray alone. We know He did this frequently, but the time frame here would indicate that He was praying for perhaps 6 to 7 hours. Some may conjecture that He took a nap for part of that time, but I doubt that was the case. I’ve heard of people praying for lengthy periods of time, but I’ve never been able to do it myself. But when we think of Jesus getting alone with the Heavenly Father for that length of time it causes us to reflect on His nature and what He is going through for us. Thank about this. It is impossible for us to know all that went on in the heart and mind of this One who was truly man and truly God. Yet, meditating on this a bit opens up a whole new appreciation for the grace of God poured out to us.
St. John assures us that Jesus is God, and the author of all creation. He is God’s divine Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, eternally existent. Yet, out of love for creation the Son became a man, fully human. He became one of us to bring about God’s plan for redemption. St. Paul wrote, “being in the very nature of God, (He) did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!”(Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, had willingly set aside His godly attributes accepting the limitations common to each of us. Out of the deepest love He experienced all of the pains and pressures, joys and sorrows, that face us in this fallen world. He also knew the perfection and beauty of God’s Kingdom, and all the good that God truly wanted for mankind. Yet, He saw around Him the tragedy that sin had wrought. This was the burden Jesus carried, and what He took into His time of prayer on the mountain. He prayed for the people He loved, and for their growth in faith. For the nation, Israel, His people by birth, that God had used for centuries to bring His good will, and whom He grieved over because of their hardness of heart. He prayed for His own physical strength, and resolve to continue the redeeming task for which He had come. He knew it would lead to His suffering and death.
I only highlight this so we think more deeply, and come to appreciate more fully what God has done for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Not just the cross, but the burden He carried for us all throughout His time on earth.
Now, to continue with the account. The weather had turned foul as it can quickly do in the hills around Galilee. His disciple were struggling at the oars in these early morning hours, fearful for their safety. The text tells us that Jesus came walking on the water. The wind was raging, the sea stirred up to a foaming caldron, and visibility limited. The disciples seeing Jesus thought it was an apparition, a ghost. This terrified them the more, and they cried out in fear. Jesus called out, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”(vs.27)
The text tells us that later on, after Jesus got into the boat, that everything became calm. But it is important to note that this was not the first thing Jesus did. The storm was there when He was on the mountain. The storm was there when He took His first steps on the water. And the storm was still there when He invited Peter to get out of the boat and come. The storm raged until Jesus finally got into the boat.
Did He know the storm was coming when He sent the disciples away on the Sea? We don’t know. That text doesn’t say. But we do know that He didn’t still the storm. The disciples were experienced fisherman, and they knew well when things were beyond their control. Fear raised in their hearts, and now seeing the “spirit”, fears changed to terror.
Even the 2000 years that separates us from them doesn’t change the human emotions we feel when life gets out of control. Every storm cannot be anticipated or planned for. We’ve been there in that boat in the sea, wondering where the Lord is, and why the storm is not stilled.
Martin Luther said that there were three aspects in our Christian life that help us to grow in an understanding of our life with God. The first is prayer – earnest God seeking prayer. The second is meditation – reading, studying, and thinking seriously about the Bible, God’s Word. And the third was suffering – the trials, and testings we go through in life. Perhaps this third aspect gives us some insight as to why Jesus didn’t or doesn’t immediately still the storms of life. His invitation to Peter was “come”. In your faith step out of the boat and come. It is in the storm that we cry out “Lord save me”.
It is just here, in the midst of the storm, that He says, “Take courage! It is I.” Here is where looking at the original language of the text is important. The simple little phrase “It is I” are two Greek words “ego emai”. They are words Jesus used a number of time in the Gospels to refer to Himself. They are the words that almost got Him stoned to death when He said to the Pharisees “before Abraham was born ego emai.” That is “I Am”. Jesus was taking the most sacred and holy name of Almighty God for Himself. Yahweh in the Hebrew. It is the name God told Moses to tell the captives in Egypt who was sending him to them.
Jesus said, “Take courage”. The I Am, the eternally existent God, is with you. Do not be afraid. In the other account of a storm at sea when Jesus was asleep in the boat, He questioned why the disciples were so afraid.(Matthew 8) Even if we perish the eternal I Am is there. This has always been what has caused the martyrs through all the centuries of the church to go to their deaths with a joyful song on their lips.
Of course, uncertainty, pain, and fear attend us in this life. The storms do not stop when we want them to. Jesus understood this as He prayed for those hours on the mountainside. He was underlining to His followers what the Psalmist had said hundreds of years before, “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”(Psalm 121:3-4)
And so we find ourselves in all the storms of life. There are storms inside with temptation and sins; with questions, doubts, and fears. There are storms on the outside of trials that seem endless. Yet the word of the Lord is still the same. “Take courage! It is I.” Ego emai, I AM, I will never leave or forsake you. I will ask you to get out of the boat while the storms are raging, but I will bring you through to calm seas. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen
Pastor Irvin F. Stapf, Jr. Christ Lutheran Church, AALC

Invitation To The Banquet
Sermon: August 6, 2017
Isaiah 55:1-5; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Last week I said I felt the need to speak about all the conditions that are tearing our society apart. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at the sin that has gripped the world and the battles the devil is winning. We do need to be aware of the spiritual battle Christians face, to know where we stand, and to be more urgent in prayer. Sin has been in the world since the Fall, but it is becoming more intense, open and universal. Our prayers for the Lord’s return are urgent.
However, there is something else in the world that has been here ever since Jesus came forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday. He brought with Him an invitation to a banquet. And not just any banquet, but one over which Jesus, Himself, presides. The Prophet Isaiah describes what has been put into our hands. An invitation on cream colored card stock with gold lettering.”Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (55:1) This is Jesus’ invitation to all, and He doesn’t skimp on the preparation or the food. Even when He fed the multitude on the hillside over Galilee all ate and were satisfied. There were even leftovers for people to take home for the next day.
In Revelation 19 the banquet is spoken of as “the marriage supper of the lamb”.(vs.9) Nothing can be more glorious, and it is held out as a promise for those who love Him.
Isaiah 55:12 declares “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” If such a banquet is true then the expression of Isaiah is very fitting. We walk forward in joy and are led by the hand in a depth of peace. This is what the Lord wants for each one who lives in Him. It is why peace is the central message of the benediction used at the end of each sermon, and at the end of each service. God wants us to come to His banquet table and know His peace.
Peace is the Hebrew word Shalom. It is one of the richest words in the Old Testament. It was the word the priests used to bless the people, and the word the people used to greet one another, and do to this day. It is a word that conveys the desire for complete wholeness to the hearer. It means that the full covenant blessing of God is being extended, and that one is wishing the other the full enjoyment of all of God’s promises. It is what Jesus was giving to the disciples on Holy Thursday when He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27)
The people of all nations want peace, as do their governments. Of course, they all want it on their own terms. Peace can’t be found by politics and armies. It can’t be found just by saying we should following the golden rule, or try more to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Somehow pride, self interest, greed and the rest of the sins that infect mankind block every effort. Have you ever read of the preparations for one of the major peace conferences? The country’s representative will argue for weeks beforehand about the shape of the meeting table, and the seating arrangements. Each group has to be seen as a power player. Or those working in the law firms, or in the halls of congress, image is everything. Ok, that may be understandable in the natural world, but it only underlines how deeply mankind is infected with sin. The one thing that people truly want is the one thing they are unable to achieve.
Isaiah chapters 54 and 55 are marvelous images of what God wants for us, and what He will ultimately achieve. However, those chapters are preceded by chapter 53, the appearance of the Suffering Servant. The peace that we so desperately desire can come only by being brought back into a right relationship with God. God saw us in our need reaching out when we were incapable of reaching out to Him. He must provide the way to peace. Isaiah was shown the only true path when he wrote, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, …. he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”(vss.4-5) It is Christ’s work alone that prepared us for the banquet table and the full measure of peace that is served.
Jesus told a parable about a king who was giving a wedding banquet for his son. The gold embossed invitations had been given, and the hour had come. Some of the invited guests began to make excuses. They had other commitments. They had business transactions to conduct. There were pressing family matters. This angered the gracious king, so he sent his servants out into the streets and neighborhoods, even some of the roughest in the town. Finally the banquet hall was filled. The king came in to greet his guests, but there was one man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. We might think this excusable considering that they had just been called off of the streets. But this was not an excuse. It was the custom of the king to provide a festive garment for each guest who came. So there was no excuse. This fellow had simply refused the kings gracious gift. He was escorted from the table into the outer darkness. The banquet continued with great joy for those who wore the beautiful robe of righteousness provided by the king.
The good hand of our Lord is extended to us in Isaiah’s words. “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”(vs.3)
When one faces a difficult situation, or illness in the family, or sees the pressures that confront us in society, there is the constant tendency to think ahead. What if this happens? What should I do if it goes this way? These are the questions insurance companies make their money on, but they are questions we simply cannot answer. We simply do not know, and there are a hundred directions life can take. Yet, the invitation is still there. “Come to Me.” There is nothing wrong with being prudent, and doing some proper planning, but there is much that we must leave in God’s hands. We have to trust that the invitation to the banquet is absolutely true.
When one sits down to a festive banquet they don’t worry if the food has been properly cooked, or if there will be enough to go around. All that is left in the hands of the host.
In this world we have not yet come to the table, but the invitation is in hand. It has been delivered to you by God’s Spirit, Himself. Paul said that we have the Holy Spirit as our guarantee. We have seen His hand working in many ways throughout our lives. We have been given the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness. We can come, stand before the King, and be seated at His generous table. We don’t know what is ahead, and we cannot answer or prepare for all of the “what ifs”. But we have the certainty of all that God has done for us throughout our lives, and we can trust Him to lead us through whatever stumbling blocks may yet get in the way until we are seated at his table. This is the truth to which we hold, and in which we can be at peace. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus . Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + Pastor Irvin F. Stapf, Jr. Christ Lutheran Church, AALC Germantown, Maryland

The Recipe For Life
Sermon: July 30, 2017
Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52
      The Romans eight passage read as our Epistle today is a wonderful and reassuring text. It is often used at funerals emphasizing that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(vs.39) This is a comfort and a great word of hope in a time of great pain, sorrow, and a myriad of unanswered questions. But it is a text that is not limited to funerals. It is a word we can trust for all times of life.
Today’s reading began with the oft quoted verse 28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I’ve often heard people quote just the first part of this verse, “we know that God works all things for good”, as a panacea for many difficult situations. However, one must look at the whole verse with its conditions, “for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” This states its truth for those who seek to abide in a love relationship with their Lord, and desire to live a life according to the purpose He established. These two things are important, in love with the Lord, and seeking to live in the purpose He established for life.
I’ve talked a lot about the need for us to see the big picture of life as God has intended. That means knowing that it is God who has made us, made all mankind, and understanding why? We need to understand something of the purpose for which God chose to created the cosmos, and us who inhabit this little planet called earth. Understanding this purpose must lead us back to looking at the values He established for this life. It is not a question of just having a life any way we choose. Thus my title, The Recipe For Life.
A number of years ago Audrey was away for a weekend, and I had charge of the kids. They were probably between six and twelve at the time. Now, you have to understand something about me. I hate to waste food. It was a Saturday morning and I was making pancakes for breakfast. It just so happened that we had had peas for supper the night before and there were leftovers in the refrigerator. Not wanting to waste them, I mixed them into the pancake batter. Well, you understand that chocolate chip pancakes are very acceptable, and maybe even blueberry pancakes, but pancakes with little green things staring up at you don’t go over so well. Mama heard that very clearly when she got home.
In a good recipe one cannot make any substitution they feel like. And life is the most complicated recipe there is. It was designed by God, Himself. But somehow mankind has felt they can make any substitutions they like. But the ingredients, the values, God devised are the ones that make His recipe for life good as He intended.
President Trump crated a firestorm on Wednesday by seeking to remove transgender people from the military. I think his governing by a Twitter account is pretty silly, but beyond that there are many issues involved. I really don’t know one way or the other whether it hurts the efficiency of our fighting force, or whether there is a great increase in the medical costs. They are issues the Generals must resolve. But it is the firestorm of protests that is important. It shows the vast cultural acceptance for the LGBT community. These variations of life have become widely acceptable as just another style of life equal to all other. But they are not the purpose for which God created us.
Jesus once cautioned his followers to “be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves”.(Matthew 10:16) That is an important word for today. We are in a spiritual battle and Satan is a real enemy. There are demonic forces of darkness fighting against the truth of our Lord. The Apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(Ephesians 6:12) And St. Peter advises us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”(IP.5:8-9) It is why in last weeks Gospel lesson Jesus highlighted the truth of the wheat and the tares, the good and the evil grow together in this present world. The darnel, or false wheat, Jesus said is sown by an enemy, meaning Satan, the
enemy both Paul and Peter caution against. The tares are a sleep inducing poison, and our society has largely been put to sleep to the danger. Every lifestyle is accepted in a false sense of love.
We are not against anybody. We are not bigots. We are people who seek to hold to the right recipe for life. We are called to love all people, and do good even to our enemies. Our task is to act in love as much as God gives us the grace to do, and at the same time hold to and share the values that God has given for the good of all life. In other words, to love the sinner and hate the sin. But this has become problematic in our day. The demand for tolerance, means that we accept all values and all lifestyles as equally good. This God does not do, and neither can we.
The devil’s attack began many centuries ago to weaken the Christian faith. This is far more than recently taking prayer and Bible reading out of schools. It aimed at removing any mention of Jesus from society, of denying the seriousness of sin, and removing the need for an atonement. Christians in general don’t appreciate the incarnation, why God had to come among us Himself, and the absolute need for the cross of Calvary. For a large part of America,                        Christianity is a Christless feel good faith regardless of how much they may talk about the love of Jesus. With sin and Jesus set aside, the central focus of Satan’s attack is now in sexuality and gender. God created mankind in His image, male and female. He ordained marriage to be a one flesh relationship between a man and a woman, two people truly being one. He established this union for procreation so that mankind would share in God’s creativity. He made it to exist in a bond of love and order in the family unit. All of this, and this is something vital that many don’t understand, all of this is intended to reflect who God is, to teach us His nature, and the nature of the Holy Trinity. It is to bring us into a marriage-like union with Jesus Christ. Through our natural, God-ordained relationships, we are to learn of the relationship God desires for us to have with Himself. He created us to be in an eternal fellowship with our Creator.
Satan hates this! From the first time Lucifer learned of God’s plan to create mankind he determined to oppose and destroy it. That has been his goal ever since he first rebelled in heaven. He has won many battles in this world. Contraception has allowed intimacy to be removed from marriage and made a recreational sport. It has elevated personal lifestyle above marriage and family, and if, God forbid, one should become pregnant there is always abortion. Divorce has become easy; cohabitation the normal with or without a later marriage; the gay lifestyle and gay marriage is accepted by the majority; and now one’s gender is not something God determined at birth, it is fluid and open to choice. Satan is winning these battles, but by God’s grace we know that he will not win the war.
Where does that leave us. For myself, I often feel overwhelmed. We are seeking to hold onto the Pearl of great price. We are the wheat in the midst of the tares. We can feel like a bunch of weak old fashioned folks trying to shout into the wind. But God does not leave us without help. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The battle is ultimately the Lord’s. He tells us in today’s Matthew 13 parable that there will be a final separation of the good from the evil, but we have a part in this.
We must first be clear in our own minds about the true values God calls us to follow. That means being in, and understanding, God’s Word and His plan for the life He created. We are called to show love for all people, gays and transgenders included. We don’t hate anyone. We must not. They are ones for whom Christ died. Where we have the opportunity, we can speak of what we believe and seek to show others the good way God intends for all. We need to be willing to suffer and take ridicule for our stand on the truth. And above all we can pray, pray for our country and its direction; pray for its people that hearts would be turned back to the Lord; pray for those we know who are struggling with behaviors that are not in God’s will; pray for ourselves that our hearts would be opened more to the Lord; pray confessing our own sins; and pray for the Lord’s soon return for He alone will bring the grace we all long for.
Beyond all this, we take Paul’s words for our own. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(vss.37-39) Amen.
     Now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds ever and only in Christ Jesus .  Amen
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Pastor Irvin F. Stapf, Jr. Christ Lutheran Church, AALC Germantown, Maryland
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2 Corinthians 4:18

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