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Sermon for Trinity 20, 2021

Text: Matthew 22:1-14

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Universalism is the teaching that all religions have the same end goal and all religions provide an equally valid pathway to reach that goal. In other words, according to universalism, all people are going to be saved. It doesn’t matter who or what their god or gods is or are. As Isaiah puts it, they are spending money on that which is not bread and laboring for that which does not satisfy. You don’t have to look very hard in the scriptures to find the Lord rejecting universalism rather resoundingly. Even when it comes to God’s own people (really especially when it comes to his own people) he disciplines them when they seek other pathways to salvation and reminds them there truly is no other name under heaven by which men will saved than by the name of Jesus. He will not tolerate idolatry.

When the people migrated from the east and settled at the plain at Shinar, they attempted to build a tower with its top in the heavens that they might make a name for themselves and not be scattered across the face of the earth. Just like Adam and Eve, they wanted to be like God. They thought this was the way that they would work their way up to God. The Lord confuses their language and scatters them across the face of the earth.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah bowed down the idol of their own sinful lust. They believed that they should be able to live as they pleased. Their chosen lifestyle, though, was contrary to God’s design. It was one that destroyed marriages and families. For this, the Lord rained down sulfur from the heavens. Only Lot and his daughters survived.

At the base of Mount Sinai, right as Moses as is receiving the two tablets of the Law from God Himself, the people of Israel attribute their deliverance from Egypt to a handmade golden calf. If not for Moses’ intervention, the entire nation would have been wiped out on the spot. As it was, thousands died for their sin of idolatry.

After the people of Israel arrive in the Promised Land, there are numerous examples of them falling into idolatry. That is, they bow down and worship false gods and give them glory for things that the Lord actually did. The Lord disciplines his people at every turn. During the time of the Judges, he would use the Philistines or the Midianites as his instrument. During the time of the kings, he would cause calamity to come upon the nation of Israel. Maybe it was military defeat at the hand of the Assyrians, Egyptians, or Babylonians. Maybe it was civil war. Ultimately, though, it was exile. The message that God sends is clear: there is only one way to be saved. You can’t do it on your own and no other god or gods will do. Choosing an alternative pathway will not lead to salvation, but will lead to certain destruction instead.

This does not please God at all, though. It’s not like he doesn’t want people to be saved. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Lord desires as many to be saved as possible. This is illustrated well in our Gospel for today.

Jesus tells a parable of a king giving a wedding feast for his son. The “save the date” cards are sent out and when the time for the feast finally comes, the king send out his men to personally call all those who were invited to come to the feast. To turn down such an invitation is complete foolishness. This is the king we’re talking about, for goodness sake! On top of that, this is not like an invitation to a birthday party or something like that where you’re expected to bring a gift. The message of the king is clear to those who are invited: “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.” There’s nothing left to do. Just show up.

But those who are invited do ignore the invitation. Jesus says that some of them went back to their farm or business. The things of this world have become their idols. They look to them for all good rather than to God alone. Worse than that, though, there are others who not only don’t come when invited, but they kill the messengers. Jesus is speaking here about God’s people in the Old Testament and how they treated the prophets who came bearing the promise of the Messiah. Not only do the people not want to come when invited, but they hate the message of the prophets so much that they kill them. What will become of those who outright reject the invitation extended to them? The Lord will destroy them. It is not the Lord’s fault that these people are destroyed, though. It is their own fault. Remember, all was made ready for them. They have no excuse.

The king doesn’t want an empty banquet hall, though. So he sends out the messengers to find people anywhere and everywhere to come to the feast. The messengers invite everyone with whom they come into contact – both good and bad. This is reminiscent of the sower in the parable of the sower. The sower sows the seed indiscriminately. This is how the Lord is with the invitation to his banquet. So intent is he on having a full banquet hall that he extends his invitation to all people.

Ah, but what about this fellow who’s wearing the wrong clothes? Seems rather harsh to bind him hand and foot and toss him out of the feast, doesn’t it? What did he do that was so wrong?

He wanted to get into the feast on his own terms. That was his problem. Yes, he was an invited guest, but even invited guests come only under the terms that the king sets. When one tries to enter into the kingdom of heaven on their own terms, they try to come in based on what they have or haven’t done. They point to their works or to their avoidance of sin.

Think about it this way: How would you answer the question, “How do you know that you’re going to be saved on the Last Day?” So often the answer that we give to that question has something to do with what we have or haven’t done. Perhaps we might say, “I’m a pretty good person.” Maybe we might even point specifically to good work or quality within us. We might think that we’ve done a pretty good job at avoiding this or that sin and we’ve done this or that good work in our community.

In the end, though, these things don’t amount to much. If we’re trying to point out or own good works or our own lack of sin or something like that, we’re trying to gain salvation on our own terms. We’re trying to enter the wedding feast wearing our own pathetic garments, but the problem is that our garments don’t cover over our shame well enough. Adam and Eve sewed together crude fig leafs to make clothing to hide their shame. It didn’t work. Neither will our efforts to cover ourselves over and present ourselves to our heavenly Father. We need a better garment than that.

The fellow that got thrown out had no excuse. The garment that he was to wear was readily available to him. Likewise, you’ve been provided with a garment that covers over your sin. This garment was won for you by Jesus at the cross and given to you in your baptism. In the baptismal rite, a white garment is placed on the one being baptized to signify that Christ’s death covers over all the sins of the one being baptized. This is your wedding garment. This is the only garment that will successfully cover over your sins. Nothing else will do. This garment is exclusive, but it is free. All the work to earn it has been done for you by Jesus. When you enter the wedding feast on the Last Day wearing this garment, the one that Jesus won for you, you have nothing to fear. For in Christ your sins are covered. There is only one name under heaven by which men can be saved.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 19, 2021

Text: Matthew 9:1-8

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It’s not uncommon for Jesus to say and do unexpected things. When we read of a paralytic (or anybody with any disability or illness) being brought before Jesus, we generally know what’s going to happen next. Jesus is going to take care of the problem. He’s going to heal the sick, make the lame walk, and give sight to the blind. That’s what Jesus does. In the end, that is what happens when the paralytic in Matthew 9. It ends with the paralytic taking up his bed that he was lying on and going home. It ends with a man who couldn’t walk now having the ability to walk. That part was expected. The part that perhaps wasn’t expected was that which happened in between.

The first thing that Jesus does in response to the paralyzed man who is placed before him is that he sees the faith of the people who bring this paralytic to Jesus. Who is this man who can see peoples’ faith?? Nobody but God alone can see faith. It’s kind of like the wind. You can see its effects, but you can’t actually see it. Jesus is truly God, though, so he can actually see faith. These people believe that Jesus will heal their friend. They have seen what he has done already. They’ve heard his preaching. They have faith that their friend will walk and that Jesus will be the one to grant the healing that’s needed.

The truth is that nobody else there knows that Jesus can see the faith of these people. It’s also true that it’s not because of their faith that Jesus responds to their pleas. Jesus shows mercy to all because that’s his character. It’s what he into the world, taking on human flesh, to do.

The first thing that Jesus does that everyone witnesses is forgive the sins of the paralytic. We, of course, know that this is no small thing, but it certainly must have been a bit of letdown for the paralytic and those who brought him to Jesus. After all, they didn’t come all this way just to have sins forgiven. They came for healing.

Even though we know that the forgiveness of sins is a big deal, we tend to take it for granted at times. It’s not flashy, after all. Miracles are flashy. When someone is healed of disease on the spot, that’s flashy. When the lame walk, that’s flashy. When the blind see, that’s flashy. We live in a world that loves flashy things. We’re addicted to entertainment. We want it in all areas of life. If we’re not constantly entertained, we’re bored. We need work to be entertaining. We need school to be entertaining. We need every area of our life to be entertaining. I mean, have you ever stopped to think about how different our lives are today compared to even 15 years ago? 15 years ago hardly anyone had a smartphone. Blackberrys were just starting to make headway. Those who had them sometimes referred to them as “Crackberrys” because of their addictive quality. Now everyone has a computer in their pocket that they can whip out anytime they need to be entertained. Screens filled with information—most of it not very useful information—are everywhere now. Why do we have all of these things? At least part of the answer is that we have an insatiable desire to be entertained.

The forgiveness of sins is not entertaining. It is simple. It is ordinary. Think of how it comes to you. I speak the absolution to you using ordinary words. Baptism is done using ordinary water. Holy Communion consists of plain old bread and wine. None of it is flashy. It is, in fact, the opposite of flashy. Unfortunately, that means that we might become bored with it and decide that’s it’s not really that big of a deal. We come in the church doors looking for something fun and exciting and all we leave with is the forgiveness of sins. It shouldn’t be a letdown, but it sure might feel like it.

While this action of Jesus might have been a letdown to those who brought him the paralytic, it actually became a source of grumbling for the scribes. They grumbled to themselves, St. Matthew writes, but this Jesus who can see faith, also knows what people are thinking. The scribes are upset because Jesus forgave this man’s sins. Even if those who brought the paralytic might not think it’s a big deal, the scribes do. Even if we don’t think the forgiveness of sins is that big of a deal, the scribes do. “Only God can forgive sins,” they say. How dare Jesus claim to be in the place of God! Even if nobody else in Jesus’ presence was thinking it, it’s true. Jesus was speaking for God when he forgave this man’s sins.

Jesus responds to their grumbling by asking a rather profound question. “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise and walk.’” Well, what do you think the answer is? I mean, I guess the smart aleck answer would be that neither one is particularly difficult to say. What Jesus is really asking here, though, is “Which one of these things is harder to do?” Well, our answer to that would most likely be to say that saying “Your sins are forgiven” is far easier. It doesn’t take any special skills to forgive sins. It’s not flashy, right? But to give a paralytic the ability to walk? That’s a miracle. We can’t do that. Here’s the thing, though: Jesus does both of these things in this reading from Matthew. He forgives sins AND he heals the man’s paralysis. We might be more impressed with the latter, but look at the reaction of the people. They marvel at the authority that God had given to men. What authority? Look back at what Jesus says before he heals the man. “That you may know that the Son of man has the authority on earth to forgive sins…” That’s the authority that they marvel at. That’s the thing that makes them glorify God.

It is true that Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion are not spectacular, entertaining events – at least not to the human eye. The Word of God tells us otherwise, though. God’s Word attaches great promises to all three. They all deliver the forgiveness of sins to us. That forgiveness was won at the cross by Jesus and sealed by the greatest miracle of all: his resurrection three days later from the tomb. Without that miracle, there would be no forgiveness of sins. Each time we encounter the forgiveness of sins, it is an application of the grace and mercy of God made possible by the miracle of the resurrection.

We mustn’t forget the healing miracle done by Jesus, though. For that really is an extension of the forgiveness of sins. Why do people in this world get sick? Why do they die? Why are there people who can’t see or hear? Why are there paralytics? Because of sin. In his death and resurrection, Jesus removes the scourge of sin in this world. While we still live in it today, we know that on the Last Day, the effects of sin will be removed once and for all for the faithful.

So let us rejoice and glorify God this day that he has given, even to this day, the authority to forgive sins to men.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 18, 2021

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Pharisees love the law. They love to talk about the law. They love to ask Jesus questions about the law. This isn’t the first time they’ve done it and it won’t be the last. It’s not wrong to love the law. The law is good. God gave it to us. It’s his law. He gave it to us in order that sin might be kept in check, in order that we might become aware of our sin, and that we might have a guide for what it is to live as his people. The law is a good and perfect gift from God. The problem the Pharisees have is that they love the law for all the wrong reasons. They love the law because they see it as a means to an end. Namely, they see the law as the way of salvation. They see it as a list of instructions that, if kept well, will result in their being counted righteous before God.

Of course, their improper use of the law of God has also resulted in them coming up with their own interpretation of what is and isn’t allowed according to God’s law. It shouldn’t surprise us that the law was tailor-made by the Pharisees to fit their lifestyle. They took God’s law and added to it. But they didn’t actually add to it to the point that it made the law of God harder to keep. They actually made it easier to keep. If there was a law from God that seemed impossible, they would take it and make it easier to keep.

Take the Fourth Commandment, for example. The Fourth Commandment teaches what it means to honor one’s father and mother. It means that we are to love and cherish them. It means that we are to serve and obey them. This takes on many different forms depending on what stage in life we’re in. As children, we live in our parents’ home and we depend upon them for our well-being. God serves us through our parents. In exchange, we love, cherish, serve, and obey them. That is, we listen to them when they instruct us and do as they say. We’re kind to them and help them when they need help from us. As life goes on, that part becomes even more important. Our parents who took care of us as children when we could not care for ourselves, need us to care for them as they become advanced in age. The Pharisees were teaching that someone who gifted their money to the synagogue was not obligated to provide financial support to their parents. It was a way to get themselves off the hook.

That’s a really long way to explain away one of God’s commandments. That’s what the Pharisees were so brilliant at. They could take a simple commandment from God and create a whole bunch of other commandments that extended off from it. While this may seem to make God’s law more difficult to keep, it did just the opposite in practice. It was a way for the Pharisees to make themselves look great for keeping all of their extra laws and then denigrate anybody who didn’t keep their additional laws.

So when one of them asks Jesus the question “What is the great commandment of the law?” they’re trying to get Jesus to pick one. “Pick the most important thing that’s in the scriptures, Jesus. Go ahead.” Jesus does just that. Sort of. The thing is that Jesus doesn’t answer with a commandment. He actually gives two. But Jesus is showing the Pharisees that you can’t separate the two. Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He could have simply left it at that, but he doesn’t. He adds “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The reason for this is that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t love God and not love your neighbor. You can’t love your neighbor without proper love for God. The Pharisees were trying to do just that. They were trying to pick and choose through God’s law and decide which ones were of greater importance. Jesus won’t play their game. In fact, Jesus says that ALL of the Law and the Prophets hang on those two commands of love God and love your neighbor. He’d not even just saying that they’re the most important commandments. Every bit of the scriptures is about those two things: love God and love your neighbor.

Not much has changed in the world when it comes to how people view the scriptures or religion in general. It’s all so often viewed and discussed in terms of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Does your church let you dance? Can you drink alcohol? How about watch TV or movies? Are women in your church allowed to wear pants instead of skirts? Or how about some of these: Are you allowed to get a divorce in our church? What does your church think about cohabitation or homosexuality or (insert whatever new way we’ve discovered to break the Sixth Commandment here)?

Now, I could go through each of those questions and answer them. Some of them could be answered with just a word or two, in fact. But that’s not the point of Christianity and that’s not the point of the scriptures. The scriptures show us what it means to love God and love our neighbor. Remember, Jesus said that the Law and Prophets hang on these two.

I used that word “hang” on purpose. The ESV, the translation we use in the Divine Service and in Bible Classes, says “depend” there, but the word literally means “hang.” It’s the same word, in fact, that’s used to describe crucifixion. Some might say that’s just a coincidence, but as Jesus continues this discussion with the Pharisees, it becomes clear that his choice of words was on purpose.

Having answered the question of the lawyer who was one of the Pharisees, it’s Jesus’ turn to ask a question. So he asks them whose son the Christ is. They give a correct answer. They answer that he’s the Son of David. They aren’t wrong. The Christ is the Son of David. This is what was promised to David long ago. A Son of his would sit on the throne of Israel for eternity. The Christ, the Messiah, is that Son of David who will reign for eternity over God’s people. But that’s not the whole answer. Jesus quotes David himself from the Psalter to show that the Christ was to be more than simply the Son of David. For David wrote, in the Spirit (That’s a really important bit, by the way. Jesus makes it clear that David didn’t just write his own opinion here. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words. All of the scriptures, in fact, were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget this very important truth! There are times for man to express his own opinion, but the Word of God is never a matter of opinion!), “The Lord (that is, Yahweh) said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” It’s a passage that makes no sense until you come to the realization that the Christ is not just the Son of David, that is, true man, but he is also true God. The Pharisees were fine with the Christ being the Son of David, but the Son of God? How can that be? They don’t want to believe that, but Jesus isn’t just expressing an opinion. He’s backing it up with the Word of God. That’s why they have no answer for him when he asks them how this can be.

Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is true man and true God. He had to be. He had to be true man so that he could take our place under the law. We can’t keep the law perfectly in thought, word, and deed. We fail repeatedly. Jesus did not. Where we failed, he succeeded. But if he had not taken on human flesh, it wouldn’t have mattered. This is Jesus’ active obedience to the law. Additionally, Jesus suffered and died in our place. The consequence for sin is death. The Law and the Prophets hang on the two-fold Law of Love that Jesus presented to the Pharisees. This Law hangs on Jesus as he hangs on the cross. This is his passive obedience to the Law. He suffers the wrath of God for sin on our behalf.

Jesus also had to be true God, though. His fulfilling of the Law for us would not have been sufficient if Jesus had only been true man. Remember that every sacrifice that was prescribed for the Old Testament Christians had to be made using a perfect animal without blemish. Since the fall into sin, every human being born of man and woman has been conceived and born in sin. Jesus is the Son of God. He did not inherit sin from his Father. He is the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who takes away the son of the world. His sacrifice, his death, is the only one that possibly pay the price demanded by our sin. Only the very Son of God could possibly overcome sin, death, and the devil for us.

Remember, the Law of God serves three purposes for you. First it protects you. It keeps terrible things from happening to you and to others in the world. Second, it shows you your sin. It shows how you’ve failed to love God and neighbor. This is not done to drive you to despair. Rather, it’s done to lead you to see that there is nothing you can do to save yourself. It’s done to direct you to Christ who comes to redeem you. Third, the Law is given to show you how to live as God’s people. You have been redeemed by the holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus. This is the love of God for you. Now you, the redeemed, are able to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Now you are able to love your neighbor as yourself. You love because God first loved you.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 17, 2021

Text: Luke 14:1-11; Third Commandment

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The clearest violation of the Third Commandment is when people don’t go to church. Of course, since you’re actually here right now, it doesn’t make much sense for me to beat y’all up about that right now. I also don’t want to get into the practice of beating up people who aren’t here right now. This commandment, of course, is not just about what physical location you find yourself in on a Sunday morning. That is part of it, thought. If we examine the reasons that we give for not being in this place to receive the free gifts that God gives in Word and Sacrament, we’ll discover quite quickly that our excuses are lame. There is nothing in life that actually demands our attention so much that we can’t find two hours or so to come to the place where Jesus places himself for our good and for our salvation. Even if there is somehow a legitimate reason to be absent from the Lord’s house, we know very well that our pastor (that’s me) would be thrilled to being the Lord’s gifts to our house personally for us. That’s truly what church attendance is all about. It’s not about checking something off of our to-do list for the week. It’s about how much our Lord God wants to give us his gifts. He wants to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He wants us to be absolved our sin. He wants us to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. He attaches such great promises to these things that we’d be fools to miss them.

The fact is that many do miss out on these gifts though. Some will even say that the church is full of stuck-up hypocrites who think they’re better than everyone else. Maybe that’s true sometimes. It probably is true sometimes. No doubt we are sometimes filled with sinful pride that has us thinking we are better than everyone else out there who’s not here right now.

Jesus finds himself in the presence of some people who fit this bill nicely. The lawyers and Pharisees thought they were better than everyone else. They knew the Law of God and kept the Law of God better than anyone else. They knew full-well that the Third Commandment taught that one was not to do any work on the Sabbath at all. None. It was the day of rest. If you weren’t resting on the Sabbath day, you were breaking the Sabbath.

They weren’t completely wrong. By definition, “Sabbath” means rests. God knows that we need to rest. Our bodies get tired. What is lost on the Pharisees is made clear by Jesus’ teaching to them. A man with dropsy is brought before Jesus. This means that he had painful fluid build-up in his body. This man is seeking healing from Jesus. How will Jesus respond to the man? The lawyers and Pharisees want to know what he will do. They watch Jesus closely.

This is what you call a “no-win” situation for Jesus, at least as far as the lawyers and Pharisees are concerned. They figure that no matter what Jesus does, he will be doing something wrong. If he chooses to heal the man, Jesus will have made himself a Sabbath-breaker. If he chooses to NOT heal the man, he’ll show himself to be unloving and uncaring for the needs of a man that he’s fully capable of helping. These folks are always trying to trap Jesus in his words and actions. They think that just maybe they’ve got him this time.

They don’t, though, do they? Jesus patiently shows them how wrong they are. First of all, he, of course, heals the man. Then he makes it personal for them. He asks them what they would do if their son or their ox fell into a well on the Sabbath day. The answer to these questions is obvious. You’re not going to leave valuable livestock, much less your son, in great danger like this. You’re going to do whatever it takes to save them. The Sabbath was not given for the sake of being a burden on man; it was given as a gift of God to man. The Third Commandment, just like all of the commandments, was given to man as an expression of God’s love to his people. Because man was created in the image of God, man is to reflect the love of God to all of his creation. When faced with situations that seem to pit two commandments against each other, a helpful way to figure out what to do is to ask the question, what would be the most loving thing to do in this situation. Clearly, when applied to the situation of the man who suffered from dropsy, the most loving thing for Jesus to do is to break the Sabbath law (at least as the Pharisees defined it) and heal the man.

What does this mean for us today? After all, the Sabbath was fulfilled by Christ in his death on the cross. We no longer are required by God to cease working for a full day. When Jesus died on the cross, he did not move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Rather, he took away the law altogether. So why, then, do we still talk about it? Why do we bother with any of the Commandments? Well, because if we want to see what it means to love God and love our neighbor, there is no better place to go than to the Ten Commandments. The Third Commandment does not forbid us from doing anything on a given day anymore, but it still plays a very important role and shows us how to live as God’s people.

First of all, the Third Commandment teaches us that God wants us to rest. Our Lord knows that we get tired. He knows that our bodies can only do so much before they run out of energy and need to rest in order to recharge. Loving our neighbor does take energy. Rest helps restore that energy.

God does not simply give us rest for rest’s sake, though. The second, and really the most important thing the Third Commandment teaches us is that we need to sanctify, that is, make holy the day of rest. How do you make something holy? You add the Word of God to it. What makes baptism more than just plain water? The Word of God in and with the water. How can the bodily eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood bring about forgiveness, life, and salvation? It’s not just the eating and drinking, but faith in the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It’s all about the word. The Commandment is “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” It’s not just “Remember the Sabbath Day.” That “keeping it holy” part is important. If you want to make something holy, you add the Word of God to it. God gives us rest in order that we might rest and be refreshed by his Word.

In addition to teaching us how to keep the Sabbath, Jesus also teaches us what our attitude toward the receiving of God’s gifts ought to look like. Remember Jesus’ audience here. The Pharisees and the lawyers thought the purpose of our worship as God’s people was to show how good we are. They thought that our keeping of the Law pleased God. The modern American heretic, Rick Warren taught something similar to this. He wrote that our worship provided some sort of “pick-me-up” for God. How arrogant to think that we could actually please God! Additionally, how weak would God be if he needed us to make him feel better?

Rather, Jesus makes it clear that we are to approach our Father in heaven in humility. That is, we are to recognize that we are, indeed, sinful and unclean. We have sinned against him in thought, word, and deed. We are poor, miserable sinners. We deserve nothing from God in heaven. We could never hope to please him. This is what it means to take the lowest seat at the table. It means that we recognize who we are and what we are. Have we loved our neighbor as ourselves? No. Do we think more highly of ourselves than those who aren’t with us in this room today? Sometimes. Are we hypocrites? Yes. We look at God’s Law and look at ourselves, and that’s what we see. We see all of this and we know where our seat at the table is. It’s the lowest place at the table. That’s where we belong.

That’s not where we stay, though. For Christ came and took the lowest place at the table for himself. He did this with his innocent suffering and death on the cross. He went lower, still, from there as his lifeless body was laid in the tomb. Christ suffered this death and burial for you. He suffered this for you that you might not stay at the lowest seat of the table.

For Christ didn’t stay there in the tomb. His cold lifeless body came forth from the tomb three days later (on Sunday) and he was elevated to the highest place at the table by his Father in heaven because his sacrifice (unlike any we could offer) was complete. Just as Christ was raised to the highest place at the table, we too, because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us, will be raised on the Last Day and be elevated to sit at the head of the table with him and with all the saints in God’s eternal feast in heaven.

So let us rest in the Word of God now that we might find eternal rest with him in the life of the world to come.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 16, 2021

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There really is nothing you can do about death. You can try to prepare yourself to talk to a person who’s in mourning. It’s good for us to keep in mind the promises that the scriptures have for those who die in the faith. “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” “I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels no rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” There are numerous others that could be used. God’s Word is the only source of true comfort. Even with that, though, the bottom line is that we can’t really do anything about death. It seems like a completely hopeless situation every time we face it.

As far as our own mortality goes, there’s not much for us to do there, either. That doesn’t stop us from trying, though. Think of all the time, energy, and money we spend to try and stave it off. Advances in medical technology add years to life. Gym memberships are sold with the promise of improving health that we might live long enough. That’s not to mention the vaccines that we’re currently being encouraged (or perhaps even coerced) into receiving for COVID-19. It’s all in the name of trying to avoid death. Bold promises of life are even attached to these things at times.

While it might be true that some of these things could cause us to live longer, healthier lives, there is always a limit. There is no cure for death. You cannot do it. Scientists could develop a cure for every disease that exists in the world, but a cure for death will never be found. You can’t avoid it. One day, unless Christ returns first, you will die. We all will. It is a rather hopeless situation when you think about it.

The two women in our readings from the Old Testament and from the Gospel of Luke can relate. They are both in hopeless situations. Both have lost their sons. Their only sons. No longer would they have their beloved child with them. This isn’t simply a matter of just losing a dear loved one, though. They both would have been dependent on their sons for their well-being as they aged because they were widows. Pension plans passed on from deceased husbands weren’t a thing yet, after all.

It’s clear to see why today’s Old Testament reading was paired with the Gospel reading for today. Both women are widows. Both of their sons die. Elijah is a prophet who preaches the Word of God. Jesus preaches the Word of God. Elijah raises the son of the widow at Zarepheth. Jesus raises the son of the widow at Nain.

Both accounts are similar, but there is an important difference. Notice how it is that Elijah raises the son of the widow at Zarepheth from the dead. Elijah stretches himself out over the child three times and cries out to God to raise the boy from the dead. God hears the plea of Elijah and brings the boy back to life. Elijah was a man of God who faithfully preached his Word, but Elijah was completely powerless to do anything about the death of this boy. God is the author of life who gives life and takes away life. He alone can answer the prayer of Elijah and breath life back into the widow’s Son.

This is not the way that Jesus raises the son of the widow at Nain, though. For Jesus himself is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Jesus is the one who gives life. He does not need to call upon God to bring life to the son of the widow, for he is God himself. Jesus instead simply speaks to the boy, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

This is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion of the world. Every other religion that you encounter is one of works. All of them have a leader who is revered because he did good things for which he was rewarded by some almighty being. If you do good things like Muhammad did, you’ll also enter paradise. You, too, can reach enlightenment like Buddha did, and you will escape suffering in this world and escape the material realm and enter the spiritual realm. Christianity is different because of Jesus. Jesus is not simply a great teacher or prophet who speaks of God and sets good examples. He is not here just to be your friend and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. No. He is God in the flesh. He comes as God to save you because you need saving.

You see, no matter what you do, you can’t escape the wages of sin. The wages of sin is death. This reality was staring the widow at Nain right in the face. Why did her son die? Because he was a sinner. You will die one day for the same reason. You are a sinner. You can exercise all you want. You can diet all you want. You can take vitamins and seek medical treatment to prolong life. You can take vaccines. All of these things promise life, but they all fail to grant it. God alone gives life and He alone decides when it ends. Job, when all was taken away from him, said “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” You sin and because of your sin, you will die. There is no escape from it.

Or so it seems. For Jesus comes into the world as God to bear the sins of the world. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ. Jesus comes to bear the sin that you have committed. He takes it upon himself. He bears your guilt. He dies for your guilt as the righteous wrath of God against sin is poured out on Jesus at the cross. Jesus was the one who knew no sin, but he became sin for you. When Jesus reaches out and touches the bier that carries the young man who is the only son of his widowed mother, he takes the sin and death of young man into himself. Then the blessed exchange happens for that son. Jesus says to him, “arise,” and he does.

You come to this place week after week because you’re dying. The world tries to promise all sorts of things that will solve the problem of your dying, but it can’t. The only solution is in Christ. Jesus speaks his forgiveness to you through my mouth when I absolve your sins. Then Jesus places his body and blood into your mouth and promises you that because you have eat his flesh and drink his blood you will live forever. The impossible is done. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus has paid that price for you. Now you are given his righteousness. Death holds no power over you for it has been defeated by your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Unless Christ returns first, you will die one day. But because of Christ, that is not your end. Death was not the end for Jesus as after three days he rose victorious from the grave. Death was not the end for the widow at Nain’s son. Death will not be your end, either. For you, the baptized, will hear the voice of your Savior Jesus call to you on the Last Day, “I say to you, arise.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 14, 2021

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

St. Paul makes it clear that the works of the flesh are opposed to the works of the Spirit. The works of the flesh desire only to satisfy selfish desires. It’s all about what I want and no one else’s needs are of any importance. It is directly the opposite of what the Ten Commandments call us to do. The Ten Commandments take us outside of ourselves. They emphasize love for God and the neighbor. This does not, however, mean that matters of the flesh are completely isolated from the Spirit. Whatever fleshly malady we experience, that is whatever disease, injury, or illness we have is not just simply a matter of bad luck. The wages of sin is death. You sin. You die. Every time we are sick it is a reminder that we are sinners. It is a reminder that our bodies are broken. But our bodies are broken because we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

The lepers that approach Jesus begging for mercy in our Gospel reading for today have a problem. Their chief problem, though, is not simply that they are lepers. Their leprosy is problematic, of course. It means that they must be cut off from their families and communities. They must live in isolation because they are unclean. It’s also problematic because it’s really uncomfortable. They have itchy, scaly skin. They are in constant pain. Ultimately, though, leprosy is not their chief problem. Leprosy is only a symptom of their problem. The ultimate problem is sin. They are slaves to sin. Do they need to be healed of their leprosy? Yes. But their greatest need is not physical healing. Physical healing only takes care of the symptoms. What they need is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus will take care of both.

When these lepers come to Jesus, he tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. This was, after all, what was required by the Torah for one who wanted to be declared clean of leprosy or any other skin condition. You had to go to the priest to be declared ceremonially clean. It didn’t matter if you no longer had the skin condition. If you didn’t go to the priest, you still weren’t considered clean.

As they go on their way, though, the miracle happens! They no longer have leprosy! Luke doesn’t tell us what 9 of the 10 who were healed do. We might assume that they went to the temple and visited the priest just like they were told to do by Jesus. It’s also quite possible, and I like to think maybe even likely, that they never made it to Jerusalem. We know that one of the 10 returned to Jesus, but I’m suggesting that the 9 not only didn’t return to Jesus, but they may not have even gone down to the temple as they were supposed to. I mean, why would they? Their fleshly problem was solved. They no longer had leprosy. What benefit would going to the temple serve? It’s quite possible – and I’d even say likely – that they simply went home and rejoiced with their families that they were able to be together once again.

It is clear, of course, that they should have returned to praise God just as the one former leper did. That was the right thing to do. It was not, however, simply the right thing to do simply because of etiquette. It was the right thing to do because, again, Jesus did not come simply to rid them of the symptomatic disease of leprosy. He came to defeat sin, death, and the devil completely.

This is what the leper who returns to Jesus realizes. He sees Jesus not just as the guy who healed his leprosy; he sees Jesus as the God who forgives sins. He recognizes that he does not simply have a fleshly problem that needs attention, but he needs to have his sins forgiven.

Forgiveness is what he needs and forgiveness is what he gets. When Jesus says, “Rise and go, your faith has healed you,” he’s not saying that the man can pat himself on the back for a job well done. He’s not saying that the man healed himself at all. Jesus is referring to the forgiveness of sins being received by faith by this ex-leper. After all, even the unrighteous receive good things from God. Those nine other lepers did not suddenly contract leprosy because they did not return to Jesus. Had they, this would have turned into a proof-text for works-righteousness. This healing miracle of Jesus, in fact, shows the complete opposite. It shows that Jesus heals the sick not because they deserve it, but because he hears their cries for mercy and desires to show mercy. What those 9 ex-lepers didn’t receive, though, is the forgiveness of sins. They were so fixated on fleshly things that once they received their healing, they had no more need of Jesus. The leper who returns to Jesus follows Jesus’ instructions perfectly, though. It might not look like he went to the temple, but that’s because he knows that Jesus is the temple. What’s so special about the temple? It housed the Ark of the Covenant. What was the Ark of the Covenant? It was God dwelling among his people. Who is Jesus? He is precisely that. He is the Word made flesh who dwells among us. He is the one who will be nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of all sin. He is the one who will be raised from the dead, showing that his sacrifice was accepted in whole by the Father.

We live in a world that is obsessed with fleshy things like the 9. What is the thing that we look to for all good? We look to ourselves. How do we know that life is going well? We say that things are going well when we have a good amount of money in the bank. We say things are going well for us when we have good friends. We say things are going well for us when we’re healthy. The opposite of all of these things are true as well. When we are broke, unpopular, or sick, we determine that things aren’t going well for us. According to the flesh, these things are true, but we should not be primarily concerned about the things of the flesh. This desire to satisfy the needs of the flesh draws us away from God and his Word. It turns us into all those evil things that Paul spoke of in our Epistle reading for today. Rather, we should see the good things that we have in life and praise God that he has given them to us.

Instead, let us go our temple, to Jesus, seeking the forgiveness of sins that he has won for us. He has told us where he is. He is here in the Divine Service absolving your sins and feeding you with his body and blood. Receive these things in faith, knowing that the forgiveness of sins is yours. Then go and live in love and service to God and neighbor knowing that the God who cares for the needs of our soul provides for all the needs of your body as well.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for the Installation of Rev. Jeffrey King

preached at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Searcy, AR on August 21, 2021

Text: Ezekiel 33:1-16

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“As surely as I live,” God said,
“I would not see the sinner dead.
I want him turned from error’s ways,
Repentant, living endless days.”

So goes the first stanza of Nicolas Herman’s great hymn on confession and absolution. God does not desire the death of sinners. This is why he sends watchmen such as Ezekiel to them. Their watchmen – their prophets, that is – are sent to them to proclaim the Word of God. Specifically, they are to warn the Israelites that if they do not repent of their sin and turn to him, then they will suffer the consequences.

If the watchman fails to warn the people as God instructs him, them the watchman himself will suffer the consequences. If the watchman does his job, that is, if he actually preaches the Word of God to his people, and the people don’t heed his words, then the people will suffer the consequences. Maybe we think when hear God’s Law that that’s what he wants. One might think that God wants sinners to suffer the consequences for their sins and die, that he takes pleasure in the death of the wicked like some sort of villain that we see in the movies.

Such despair in the Israelites evident in Ezekiel 33:10. “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?” they say. There is a hopelessness in those words. It’s the same sort of hopelessness that’s expressed by Jesus’ disciples in Matthew 19 after Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples respond to this by saying, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus response to this is “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Ezekiel says the same. Righteous deeds won’t save a man. Why? Because no matter how righteous they are, there’s always something that ruins it. There’s always one more righteous deed that should have been done but wasn’t. One evil thing done by a good person ruins any of the righteous deeds they may have done before that. The inverse is true as well. When the wicked one turns away from his sin, seeking the forgiveness of God, his wicked deeds are remembered no more. This is a rather simple message. Our own righteousness will never be enough to save us. Only the righteousness of Christ is enough. Only the forgiveness, life, and salvation that he won for us in his death and resurrection are adequate to bring about our redemption. In verse 16, the Lord says, “He (that is, the sinner) has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.” How remarkable! The sinner has done what is just and right! Of course, we know better, right? We know that we haven’t done what is just and right. But this is the beauty of God’s forgiveness. We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus so that that statement is actually true. Jesus does all the work and we get all the credit.

This is the message that your new watchman, Pastor King, is here to deliver. Everything that your pastor does for you is based upon the forgiveness of sins. The section of Luther’s Small Catechism that we look to to learn about this is that on the Office of the Keys. The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to his church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

As your watchman, Pastor King is here to make use of these keys for your benefit. Sometimes he’ll have to use the binding key. That is, he’ll have to withhold forgiveness from unrepentant sinners as long as they do not repent. This may sound harsh to our ears, but it is truly a loving thing to do. This is precisely what the Lord called Ezekiel to do. He called him to proclaim the Word of God in all of its fullness and not hold back any of it. It can certainly be tempting to withhold some of God’s Word. After all, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. No one wants to tell someone that they are a sinner and are in danger of damaging or ruining their faith. But this is what God calls his watchmen to do. He calls them to tell the truth and to proclaim his Word to his people even when that Word is a Word of damning Law. This withholding of forgiveness is never done because the pastor enjoys making people suffer. Rather, it is done so that the sinner may be led to repentance. The end goal is the sinner turn from his evil and live. For Christ came for this reason: to seek and to save the lost.

That brings us to the loosing key. That’s the key that Pastor King uses when he forgives your sin. This is the key he wants to use. The use of this key brings pastors the greatest joy. This is when you hear the sweet words of forgiveness from the pastor’s lips. But, even better than that, you know that the words your pastor is speaking are not his words, but they are the Words of Christ himself. As Herman puts it in the hymn:

The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.
When ministers lay on their hands,
Absolved by Christ the sinner stands;
He who by grace the Word believes
The purchase of His blood receives.

Dear friends in Christ, may you find much joy in the ministry of Pastor King among you as he gives you the gifts that Christ won for you on the cross in Word and Sacrament. Pastor King, may you, likewise, find joy in giving these gifts to the dear saints here at Our Shepherd.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for the Installation of Rev. Morgan Hamilton

preached at Christ Lutheran Church in Little Rock, AR on August 1, 2021

Text: Titus 2:1-8

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Paul instructs Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Doctrine. What a stuffy-sounding word. We sometimes cringe at it, in fact. We think it’s a word that belongs in theology classroom at the seminary or maybe at the Pastors’ Conference or something like that. Why do we react so negatively to it? Perhaps it’s because doctrine is divisive. We don’t want to be divisive.

Well, doctrine is divisive. It divides that which is true from that which is false. While we don’t think about it, we do it all the time. In the church we confess the creeds. The creeds very clearly state that which is true. By stating that which is true, we are also stating that anything that is not the same as what is in that creed is false. Congregations of our church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod submit to the Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions. That is, they say that all that is found there is true and all that is not found there is false. In a few moments, your new pastor, Pastor Hamilton, will make a vow that says that he promises to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments in accord with scripture and the confessions. In effect, he’s promising you that he will be divisive because that’s what pure doctrine does. It divides.

While doctrine does divide, it also unites. That’s something we tend to be much happier about. Unity is good. We like unity. Each and every pastor in this room before you has made this same promise each time they’ve been installed. We pastors promise to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments the right way. Each of the congregations that we serve is united in confession. That’s why it’s not just the saints of Christ Lutheran Church here this afternoon, but it’s pastors and laypeople all over the area gathered to celebrate this occasion with you today. We are all united in the pure doctrine of the as found in God’s Word.

Pastor Hamilton is here to teach what accords with sound doctrine to you. St. Paul describes some of what that entails to Titus. He gives instructions for how Titus should instruct the people to live. While we may look at the list of instructions that Paul gives and find them to be outdated or perhaps not terribly applicable to our lives today, consider what life was like in ancient Crete. St. Paul actually speaks of Cretans in a rather direct fashion earlier in his letter to Titus. He says that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This is what makes Titus’ work among God’s people in Crete so important. They are sinners. They need sound doctrine.

So do you. You need sound doctrine. You need sound doctrine because sound doctrine shows you your sins. It reveals that you, like the Cretans, and just as you confess in the Divine Service, are “poor, miserable sinners.” No one is righteous. Not even one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. When you examine yourself using the mirror of God’s Law, you can’t come to any other conclusion about yourself. Doctrine shows you your sins.

Doctrine also saves you, though. I know from experience that anytime you insert a word other than Jesus before the word “saves,” you’ll get yourself in hot water. I put the words “Baptism saves” on a church sign once and soon found this out as an anonymous caller left multiple messages on the church answering machine imploring me to change the sign because I was surely leading people to hell because I was telling them that something besides Jesus was doing the saving. She wasn’t wrong, of course, about Jesus saving. There is no other name by which we are saved than that of Jesus. But doctrine does save. Almost 2,000 years ago Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of all sins. That’s an objective reality that never changes. But now the gifts he won there have to get to you, sitting there in the pew in the year of our Lord 2021. For this, God gives you doctrine. This doctrine is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each time it’s preached to you, your sins are forgiven. Then there is the doctrine of Holy Absolution, where called and ordained servants of Jesus Christ stand in his stead and forgive your sins. And then there is the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper where you are given the same body that was nailed to the cross at Calvary and the same blood that flowed forth from Jesus’ head, hands, feet, and side to drink for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus saves. Jesus saves through doctrine. Paul left Titus at Crete that he might preach Law and Gospel to the people there. Now you have your own Titus, Pastor Morgan Hamilton, who the Holy Spirit is placing in your midst to do the same for you. He is here to exhort you to live as Christians, modeling your lives according to the descriptions that Paul gives Titus. He is also here, though, to absolve you when you fail to do just that. May you rejoice in the sound doctrine that comes to you through your pastor!

There is a word specifically here for your life and conduct, too, though, Morgan. In these last two verses, St. Paul urges Titus to model all of these good qualities to the people that he serves. He is to “practice what he preaches” you could say. As unfair as it may seem, we pastors are held to a higher standard than everyone else. It’s certainly not that we are more holy than everyone else. There are times when nothing could be further from the truth! It’s that you are called to stand in the place of Christ. You are called to speak in the stead of Christ and by his command. That means that everything you say and do reflects on Jesus and who he is. This is no small thing, of course! It can, in fact, be a very heavy burden, especially when you see that you fall short of the high standards that God sets for you. Thanks be to God, though, that the same mercy of God in Christ Jesus that you proclaim to your people is there for you as well. Christ died for all sinners, including you.

Morgan, may the sound doctrine of Christ crucified be not only always coming from your lips and into the ears of your people bringing them the assurance of sins forgiven, but also in your own ears that you may have this same assurance.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, 2021

Text: Mark 6:14-29

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What’s the best way to stay out of trouble? Keep your mouth shut and do as your told. To some extent, this is good and true and right. When parents and other authorities give us commands, we are to do them. When our parents or other authorities do or say things that we don’t agree with, we still honor them for the position or office that they hold. This is part of what it means to “Honor your father and your mother” as the Fourth Commandment instructs us to do.

There are also situations, however, when you have to say what is true even to those who are in authority. St. John the Baptist was presented with such a situation. King Herod was not a morally just and upright man. He was notorious for having people executed who he felt were a threat to his throne. It didn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter if they were closely related to him. If there was a chance that they might have their eye on his throne, they had to be eliminated. Herod clearly had a Fifth Commandment problem. That is, he didn’t value the God-given gift of life. But he had Tenth Commandment and Sixth Commandment issues, too. His brother Philip had a wife who the scriptures call Herodias. Herod desired Herodias to be his wife instead of his brother Philip’s wife, so Herodias divorced her husband and married Herod instead. The scriptures are very clear on this matter: it is not lawful to take another man’s wife. Jesus himself says that anyone who marries a divorced woman makes her an adulterer. Moses goes into great detail about how such relationships like that between Herod and Herodias are strictly forbidden.

Herod is the king, though. John certainly knew that. He no doubt knew how cruel of a king Herod was. It would have been most beneficial for John to simply keep his mouth shut. If he had, he never would have been put in prison and he never would have been sent to the executioner at the request of Herodias through her daughter. You can almost picture John’s disciples saying to him as he approached Herod to confront him on the unlawful marriage to Herodias… “Don’t do it John. He’ll kill you.”

John was faithful to his calling, though. He was the prophet of Most High going before the Lord to prepare His ways. He was sent to call people to repentance that they might have the forgiveness of sins. King Herod was no exception. John was to call Herod to repentance just as he was to call everyone else to repentance. To not do so would be against the calling that God had given him as a prophet. Was John walking into trouble when he approached Herod. Yes. And he knew it. He knew that his life on earth would likely be shortened by this action. But he did it anyway.

Would that we were so bold in proclaiming the truth! We are presented with plenty of opportunities to speak the Word of God boldly to those around us. Why do we shrink away when these situations arise? What do we fear? The answer is that we fear all the wrong things. We fear the negative reaction and perhaps even tense relationship we might create with our or daughter when they decide to pretend to be married instead of actually getting married. We fear that maybe we’ll chase them away from the Church if we keep telling them how important it is that they gladly hear and learn the Word of God by coming to the Divine Service as the Third Commandment bids us to do. We fear losing friends when we state what the Word of God says about sexuality and marriage. We may even fear losing our job over such things. We fear what people will think of us if they find out that our lives are shaped by the Word of God. So instead of boldly proclaiming God’s Word, we decide to keep our mouths shut for the sake of keeping the peace.

Remember why John was called by God to preach the fullness of God’s Word, though. It was not so that sinners would perish; it was so that they might repent and believe the Good News of salvation. The same is true for us. The Lord desires that we boldly confess what is contained in his Word – particularly here we’re talking about his word of Law here – that many will be led to repent of their sins and be receptive to the Gospel. That is, that they hear that Jesus has paid the price for their sins with his blood that he shed on the cross and that they will be raised on the Last Day just as he is risen from the dead. “As surely as I live, God said, I would not see the sinner dead. I want him turned from error’s ways, repentant, living endless days.”

John knew the cost of proclaiming this Word of Law to Herod. He knew it might get him killed. Eventually, it did. But he knew that life in this world was not the end goal. He knew that a far greater thing awaited him in paradise.

Their are Christians around the world today who face that same tough decision as John the Baptist. This past week, many Christians, in fact, lost their lives in Afghanistan because they refused to recant their faith in the One True God. Thanks be to God that we (for now, anyway) don’t face a similar threat. We do face discomfort, though, for speaking the truth. We do face potential trials in life for living as Christians. We have a choice. We can forsake the faith in the interest of living a comfortable life here and now, or we can live as God’s people knowing that it might cost us dearly in this world.

You know what the right choice is. We need not fear the things of this world. For we know that we have been baptized into the death of Christ Jesus. And if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united in a resurrection like his.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
    Perform thy duties faithfully,
And trust His Word; though undeserving,
    Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sermon for Trinity 12, 2021

Text: Mark 7:31-37

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Each week in our Matins services, the first words out of the Pastor’s mouth are, “O Lord, open my lips.” This opening versicle comes from Psalm 51, a Psalm of repentance written by David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. This Psalm is also where the offertory from the Lutheran Common Service comes from. “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” As a whole, this Psalm acknowledges the reality of original sin. Through our fathers, we inherit the sin of Adam. That is, we are turned inward on ourselves. We are unable, by our own reason or strength, to believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him. We cannot, in fact, call upon him at all. Our mouths are unable to even utter the name of the Lord. Something must be done. Something has been done. In Holy Baptism our lips are opened by the Holy Spirit who calls, enlightens, and sanctifies us in the true faith.

If you take a look at our Rite of Holy Baptism as it is found in the hymnal, you’ll find quite a bit of ceremony. We use much of it, but we don’t make use of all of it. We mark the child (or the adult) with the sign of the holy cross to denote that they are redeemed by Christ, the crucified. Some make the sign of the cross throughout their lives as a remembrance of their baptism. After the baptism, the person who was baptized may be clothed with a white garment to show that their sins have been forgiven and that they are now part of Christ’s bride, the Church. A candle may be given to the one who is baptized that they may remember that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light that no darkness can overcome. It’s this light of Christ that now shines the way in their lives. There is also some ceremony that we’re not familiar with at all because it’s fallen out of use. At the time of the reformation, the baptismal rite included, after the reading of Mark 10:13-16, the pastor put spit on his finger and touched the child’s nose and ears, saying, “Ephphatha, that is, Be thou opened. But thou, devil, flee; for God’s judgment cometh speedily.”

That word, “Ephphatha,” comes directly from our Gospel reading for this morning. In Holy Baptism our ears are opened to hear the Word of God. It’s not that we didn’t have the ability to hear before. In fact, studies show that babies are able to hear in their mother’s womb as early as 16 weeks after conception. But this is something different. Now God gives his Holy Spirit that we might gladly hear and learn the Word of God. Our ears might have heard the sounds of the Word of God, but without the Holy Spirit, they make no sense. God gives us his Holy Spirit that we might daily die to sin and daily rise to new life in Christ. It is a rather strange thing, though, isn’t it, in particular when it comes to infants, that we speak to an infant as if they understand us? Of course, you could argue that they understand every word we say perfectly, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it. When we speak to infants, it might very be as if we are speaking a foreign language. The good news, of course, is that the Word of God is powerful not necessarily because it is understood, but because it is the Word of God.

Take the man who was brought to Jesus in our Gospel reading this morning, for example. Jesus is in the region of Tyre and Sidon. He is not among the Jews. He is not among people who even speak the same language as he does. But the people there know enough to know that Jesus is the one who works miracles. He will heal this man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Jesus, of course, does just that. Notice how he does it, though. He says, “Ephphatha,” that is, “be opened,” to the mans ears. This is interesting for two reasons. The first is that this man can’t hear. Jesus speaks into ears that can’t hear and makes them work properly. The second reason that this is interesting is that Jesus speaks in Aramaic to a man who doesn’t understand Aramaic and lives among a people that don’t understand Aramaic.

Jesus isn’t talking to this man, though. He’s also not talking to the people around the man. Jesus is speaking to the tongue and the ears of the man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Jesus has a habit of speaking to inanimate objects. He speaks to the raging sea, “Quiet! Be Still!” and all is quiet. He tells the fig tree, “May no one ever eat figs from you again!” and the fig tree dies. In the very beginning, Jesus spoke and actually created all things out of nothing. He does the same here. He speaks hearing into a man who had none. He speaks speaking into a man who couldn’t. Jesus really does do all things well as the crowd proclaimed.

Then he gives what seems to be a rather odd instruction. It’s a directive he gives elsewhere as well. He tells them not to tell anyone. Why? Of course, the crowd didn’t listen to Jesus anyway. This command didn’t make any sense to them. Why shouldn’t they tell anyone? We may ask the same question, though. Why does Jesus make such a command here?

There are different answers to that question depending on the situation. Jesus would sometimes tell his disciples not to tell others what they had seen. For example, at the Transfiguration. Jesus’ appearance was transformed right before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah appeared. What a story they would have to tell! But Jesus told them not to. There it was that the account of the Transfiguration could not be properly understood without the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples, though, at least were being catechized by Jesus. They even heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus was the beloved Son of God.

These people of Tyre and Sidon, though, had none of these things. They did not know who Jesus was. They didn’t know that he would be crucified by sinful men and after three days rise from the dead. They had not even heard the preaching of Jesus. They had not been evangelized yet. All they had was a healing miracle. As wonderful as it was, that’s all it was to them. They were excited about it. They wanted to talk about it. But they had no idea what it really meant. They didn’t truly understand that Jesus, in healing this man, was showing what it would be like in God’s kingdom, where no such ailments would be present anymore. Jesus, to them, was a miracle worker, but that’s about it. They hadn’t yet been evangelized.

Jesus didn’t just open the ears of the deaf man so that he could hear birds chirp and the wind blow. He didn’t just loose the tongue of the man so that he could say “Good morning!” to his neighbor. He opened his ears so that he could hear the Word of God. He loosed his tongue so that he could confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord. Jesus does the same for us. In our Baptism, Jesus opens our ears that we might hear the Word of God. He loosens our tongue that we might sing his praise.

“O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise.” King David puts it well. We don’t just want our tongue loosened that ears opened so that we can speak clearly and have the ability to hear. We want the words that we speak to be shaped by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. We want the words that we hear to be the Word of God that leads us to all truth. Because we have this Word, we are not restricted as those at Tyre and Sidon were. Our tongues are loosed that we may proclaim the wondrous deeds that God has done through Christ Jesus who does all things well.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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