Sermon for Wednesday of Invocabit, 2021

Text: Exodus 20:1-21; Matthew 5:17-48

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

In the Ten Commandments, God gives us his Law. The Ten Commandments, in fact, serve as the basis for all law. God sets a high standard in his commandments. He demands love for him and love for our neighbors. We would all agree that this is a good thing. It is good to love God. It is good to love your neighbor. It sounds nice and it is nice. It is also true, however, that when we look at God’s Law we see that we haven’t kept it. God’s Law is a brick wall. There is no way around it, over it, or through it. The Law of God shows us to be sinners.

We speak of the Law having three uses. The first use is that the Law keeps gross outbreaks from sin from happening. It keeps the world from devolving into chaos. The second use is that the Law shows us our sin. That’s the chief use of the Law. The third use is that the Law serves as guide for how we ought to live. It shows us the will of God for our lives as Christians.

We will speak this evening primarily of the second use and little about the third use of the Law. As has already been said, when we look at our lives in light of the Ten Commandments, we can come to no other conclusion than that we are sinners who deserve nothing but God’s everlasting punishment. The wages of sin is death. Our most common move is to look for relief somehow. That is, we try to find a way that makes us not look so bad. Maybe the Law of God really doesn’t condemn us. Maybe we’re just reading it wrong. Maybe the Law of God was given to a different people at a different time and simply doesn’t apply to our modern-day world. We even look to Jesus to try and explain the Law of God away. Surely Jesus will give us a way out.

We’re rather disappointed, though, when we read what Jesus has to say about the Law. Jesus doesn’t break down the wall that is God’s Law. Jesus doesn’t install a door or a window. No, instead Jesus builds the wall higher. You see, the Pharisees, the religious leaders during Jesus’ day, had taken the Law of God and domesticated it. They made it easier to keep. They would take a law like the Fifth Commandment and say that as long as you didn’t take another man’s life you’ve kept that law. The Pharisees had turned God’s Law into a checklist. We know better than that. We know better than that because Jesus taught us what God’s Law truly demands.

Jesus, in fact, goes through some of the commandments in Matthew 5 and shows exactly what God is saying in each of them. He starts with the Fifth Commandment. You shall not murder. That’s simple enough. By its most basic definition, it’s not terribly hard to keep, either. Jesus makes it clear that keeping the fifth commandment is about more than just not ending a life. It’s about not hurting anyone physically at all. In fact, Jesus even adds that if you’re angry with your neighbor, you’re guilty of murder.

We typically think we’ve got the sixth commandment figured out, too. God says you shall not commit adultery. What’s adultery? That’s when a husband or wife sleeps with someone besides their spouse, right? Well, there’s more to it than that. Any sexual act that is down apart from one’s husband or wife violates God’s Law. Jesus says that if you even look at someone with lustful intent, you’re guilty of adultery. He adds that God’s Law forbids divorce, too.

Then there’s the eighth commandment. The eighth commandment tells us that we are not to give false testimony against our neighbor. The Pharisees had interpreted this to mean that you could say anything about your neighbor as along as it was true. Jesus tells us, though, that we should only say what is necessary and that whatever we say about our neighbors should defend their reputation.

Those are only three examples, but you get the idea. Jesus doesn’t come to cast God’s Law aside. Rather, he comes to show what the Commandments really mean. God’s Law condemns us. It demands, as Jesus says, perfection. It demands far more than we can ever hope to achieve.

Who, then, can be saved? With man this is impossible. Try all you want to keep the Ten Commandments perfectly. You’ll never get there. The Law of God always demands more. Your righteousness must, as Jesus says, exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus is not saying “try harder.” Rather, he’s saying, “you can’t do it.”

You can’t do it. With man this is impossible. But not with God. Not with the Son of God. Jesus’ righteousness alone exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus righteousness can be divided into two types of righteousness: active and passive. Jesus actively kept the Ten Commandments. He did this perfectly and without sin. That’s his active righteousness. You can’t do, but Jesus did. Jesus’ passive righteousness was this: he suffered the punishment that you deserved for your sins in his death on the cross. He is the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus now takes his righteousness and bestows it on you. In baptism, you were clothed with the white robes of his righteousness. These robes cover over your sin and present you as one redeemed by Christ to the crucified to your father in heaven.

It doesn’t end at your baptism, though. Daily the old Adam in you is drowned and daily you rise to new life in him. You look to the Ten Commandments as the guide that teaches you how to love God and love your neighbor. You honor your parents and other authorities because they are God’s representatives on earth. You help and support your neighbor in every physical need. You aid your neighbor in retaining the possessions they have from God. You uphold your neighbor’s good name. You seek contentment in what God has given you. You pray to God in times of need and gladly hear and learn from his word. Even though these works are stained by sin, the righteousness of Christ covers these stains. Your works are good not because of your attitude or your motivation, but because they are done in Christ. His righteousness, the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, is yours.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sermon for Invocabit, 2021

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

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

Martin Luther wrote many hymns. We, in fact, have 29 hymns that were either written entirely (or in part) by him. There are several more that don’t appear in our hymnal. None are more familiar than the one we just sang, though. Our God is, indeed, a mighty Fortress. A trusty Shield and Weapon. We love the hymn, but we also probably associate the hymn with Reformation Day more than we do the First Sunday in Lent. If we look at what the hymn actually says, though, the reason for using as the Hymn of the Day for today becomes apparent. It’s a battle hymn. It’s a hymn that speaks of God being the one that goes into battle for us and comes out the victor for us.

Look at how David counted on the Lord for victory over Goliath. We tend to read the account of David and Goliath as one that illustrates the bravery of David. He was a small boy. Goliath was a giant. David stood no chance at defeating Goliath. Goliath mocked David. “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” Goliath said. In one of the greatest upsets in the history of the world, David came out the victor that day.

What’s often lost in this account, however, are the details. David, in fact, is rather graphic in his description of what’s going to happen to Goliath and to the Philistines. “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth,” he says. You won’t typically find that type of detail in your children’s Bibles movies. There are gory details there, but the most important detail of all is the first one: “The Lord will deliver Goliath into David’s hand.” David didn’t defeat Goliath because he was brave. David didn’t defeat Goliath because he had good aim with his slingshot. David’s victory wasn’t even David’s victory, in fact. David says as much the words, “the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” Israel’s army as a whole lacked trust in God. They saw that Goliath was big. They saw that the Philistine army was big. They didn’t see a path to victory. David remembered a key detail that the rest of them forgot, though. The Lord fights for them. The battle wasn’t about who had military might. The battle was about who had the true God on their side, and who trusted in idols. The Israelite army had engaged in idolatry. Their own perceived military prowess had become their idol. They had turned the battle into one between idols: their idols against the Philistine idols. That’s not a good strategy.

Yet, when it comes to temptation, that’s the strategy we often employ. When we’re tempted in this world, we try and muster up all the willpower we can to resist it. Make no mistake about it, all temptation in this world has one source: Satan. That’s where the first temptation came from as Satan, taking on the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve. That’s where every temptation that has overtaken man since then has come from. It’s the same temptation over and over again. Trust in yourself. You know better than God. You can do it on your own. All you have to do is try harder. The power is within you. Well, it’s not. You can’t win. You won’t win. With this strategy, you will fall further and further into sin. You’ll fall into temptation because you’ve turned the battle into you against Satan. That won’t work. You won’t win.

Jesus shows what it takes to overcome temptation. Right after his baptism, he is led out to the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. We already know that Jesus’ baptism was different than ours. You’ll recall that John the Baptist didn’t even want to baptize Jesus. Jesus didn’t have sin. Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the chief gift it bestows. Jesus’ baptism, though, is to fulfill all righteousness. That is, in his baptism Jesus identified with us. He takes on our sin. He doesn’t commit sin like we do, but he takes ours. He bears them. Identifying with us means facing the temptations of Satan just like we do. It means doing battle with Satan just like we do.

The victory over Satan was won on the cross by Jesus. That’s a reality that can’t be taken away. It’s a victory that can’t be overturned. We have that promise. But daily we still battle Satan and his temptations. We still walk this earth and face temptation daily. The three temptations of Jesus in our Gospel reading are the same temptations that we face in the wilderness of this world.

Satan first tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus was hungry. He had been fasting for forty days and forty nights. Satan knew that Jesus could do something about this if he wanted to. Why not turn the stones into bread? Jesus uses the Word of God to turn back this temptation of Satan. Satan wants Jesus to turn his belly into his idol. It’s not wrong to eat food. It’s not wrong to rejoice in the daily bread that God gives us. God wants us to receive his gifts with thanksgiving. But our daily bread (which includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body) cannot save us. We must not trust in daily bread. As Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” How often we starve ourselves of the Word of God for the sake of the things of this world! We think it’s perfectly reasonable to starve ourselves of the Word of God, and by extension, the Sacraments, in order to chase after daily bread. Satan is trying to convince Jesus here that if he doesn’t turn these stones into bread, he’ll starve to death. Satan tries to convince us that if we don’t address our insatiable need for more stuff, we’ll lose everything. Jesus shows how foolish this is. Jesus, in fact, later says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you.”

Well, if Jesus wants to go down the road of quoting scripture, Satan tries to play that game, too. He tries to get Jesus to throw himself down off of the pinnacle of the temple. After all, God will save you. His angels will swoop down and catch you. That’s what God promises through the psalmist. It’s true, God does say that he will send his angels to protect Jesus. He will send his angels to protect each and every one of us, in fact. What Satan is doing with this temptation, though, is trying to get Jesus to put himself over the Father. That is, he’s trying to get Jesus to be the one who dictates what the Father will do. Satan tries to get us to do that, too. He wants us to take unnecessary risks with our lives. This puts us in the position of dictating what God will do. It really puts us in the position of God, in fact. God does care for us. He promises to send his angels to protect us. But we are not, as Jesus says, to put the Lord our God to the test. Instead, we, in faith, trust that God will do what is best for us.

The third, and final temptation of Satan to Jesus really gets to the heart of the matter. Which god are you going to serve? Satan promises much to Jesus. He promises to give him every kingdom of the world if he will just bow down and worship him. Forsake your Heavenly Father, and you can have it all, Jesus. We are faced with that same temptation daily. Do we want glory in this world? Do we want all the power in this world? We can have it. All we have to do is chase after it. Satan will give it to us. When we pursue the pleasures and riches of this world over and above God’s eternal blessings, we are, in effect, bowing down to Satan. Jesus won’t so it, though. Jesus, again, quotes the Word of God. “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Three times Satan tempts Jesus. Three times Jesus overcomes the temptation. Three times Jesus uses the Word of God as his weapon and comes out on top. Jesus shows how the battle is won. It’s not won with willpower. It’s not won with negotiation. It’s won with the Word of God.

This is how the battle ought to be fought. This is the only way that the battle can be won. This is the only way that the battle is won. As Luther wrote in the hymn:

Though devils all the world should fill,
    All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
    They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
    He can harm us none.
    He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

LSB 656:3

Jesus wins the battle against Satan. Jesus’ overcoming of Satan’s temptations is our overcoming of Satan’s temptations because Jesus’ righteousness has been credited to us. The battle is not ours. It is the Lord’s. It’s a battle that’s been won by Christ Jesus. He holds the field forever, and because he holds the field forever, you also hold the field forever.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ash Wednesday, 2021 Sermon

Text: Jonah 3

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

The specific sins of Ninevah aren’t mentioned in Jonah, but Nahum, another prophet who deals with Ninevah gives us some clues. Nahum indicates that that the Ninevites were guilty of cruelty, prostitution, materialism, and arrogance. They were enemies of God’s people and, in turn, enemies of God himself. That pretty much covers the entire gamut of the ten commandments. They had sinned against God and against his people in every way imaginable. They deserved to be destroyed.

That’s exactly what Jonah was sent to tell them, actually. As our Old Testament reading for tonight indicates, this is actually the second time Jonah was sent to Ninevah. You’ll remember that the first time he was sent, he ran the other way. Jonah was probably not looking forward to confronting the people of Ninevah with their sin. After all, nobody really likes being told that they’re wrong. Jonah’s message was a particular negative one. “Forty days,” he said, “and Ninevah will be overthrown.”

These people do not believe in Yahweh, the one true God. They are, as was already mentioned, enemies of God. Why would they listen to him? Why would they even care?

The surprise in this account is that the Ninevites act in an unexpected way. They listen to the Word that Jonah preaches. The king pronounces a fast and tells everyone in the entire city to repent and put on sackcloth and ashes. He even goes so far as to have the animals that belong to the people to do the same. The repentance that he urges is not just symbolic though. He commands that the people cease from the sins they are committing. This is true repentance. The entire city of Ninevah turns from their sin because, as the king says, “Who knows? Maybe God will relent from the disaster that he has planned.”

Does God change his mind? It sure looks like he does in this case. Then again, there are also times where the Word of God indicates that God never changes his mind. In Numbers 23 Moses writes that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” David writes in Psalm 110 that “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind.” The Lord himself says through the prophet Jeremiah that he has not relented, nor will he turn back. Through the prophet Ezekiel he says, “I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged.” Those verses all seem to indicate that God does not change his mind.

Then again, in addition to this example from Jonah, we have the way in which God chose not to destroy the people of Israel when they worshiped the golden calf at the base of Mt. Sinai. God had already prophesied disaster for Jerusalem and that the people of Judah would be carried off into exile when King Josiah led the people of repent of their sin after the long-lost Word of God was discovered hiding in the temple, but, because of Josiah’s repentance and his leadership of Judah during his reign, God delayed the destruction that was to come.

So which is it? Does God change his mind or not? When it comes to the promises that God makes regarding the salvation that is to come in Christ Jesus, God does not change his mind. Even though he makes promises that the people of Israel will be his people and he will be there God forever and it looks like he goes back on that promise, look again. God always preserves a remnant. The promise of a Messiah will be fulfilled.

This element of God’s character was exactly what the king of Ninevah was banking on. God promised Abraham that not just his children would be saved through Jesus, but that all nations would be blessed through Jesus. That promise is never taken back and never will be taken back. The king of Ninevah knows that the judgment of God delivered through Jonah is true. He knows that the city should be overthrown and that God has every right to do so. We don’t know how aware of the promises that God made to all nations that the king of Ninevah was. Maybe he knew nothing of the promises that God made of the coming Messiah. But he figured he had nothing to lose.

Dear friends in Christ, you have something better than that. It’s not fun to be told that you’re a sinner. It’s even less fun to admit that it’s true. That’s what it means to confess your sins. You’re not giving God new information when you confess your sins. You’re just saying that what God says about you in his Word is the truth. It can be hard thing to admit, but that’s what God calls upon you to do. He reveals to you your sin through his Holy Word. The laundry list of sins of the people of Ninevah could just as well be your laundry list of sins. The people of Ninevah were the enemies of God because of their sin. That’s what sin does. It makes you God’s enemy. In that regard, you are just like the people of Ninevah.

But, then again, you are nothing like the people of Ninevah in this way: there is no question about whether or not God will relent of the disaster that you deserve. You deserve nothing but God’ judgment, that is, his everlasting punishment for your sin. But you know the promises of God in Christ Jesus. You know that Jesus comes to bear your sin to the cross. You know that your sin dies along with Jesus at the cross. You know that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father that you who have been baptized into his death will also be raised to life in him. There is no asking the question of “Who knows whether or not God will relent?” for you already know the answer. God has relented of bringing disaster upon you because he has brought that disaster on his son instead.

So during Lent this year, return to the Lord your God repenting of your sin. Is it fun to admit that you are poor, miserable, sinner? No. But it is good. It is good because God, your heavenly Father wants to reward you for turning away from sin and, indeed, has rewarded you in Christ Jesus.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sermon for Quinquagesima, 2021

Text: Luke 18:31-43

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

I’d love to tell you that it’s no coincidence that we heard from 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul’s so-called “love chapter,” on Valentine’s Day, but it totally is. The lectionary that we use that determines the readings for each Sunday in the Church Year has been in use far longer than the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. It just so happens that Quinquagesima fell on February 14 this year. It is absolutely just a coincidence.

It does afford us the opportunity to contrast the world’s definition of love with God’s definition of love, though. The world defines love in mostly emotional terms. God defines love with sacrifice. God showed his love for us in that he sent his son Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners because his desire is that all men come to the knowledge of the truth and are saved. “Greater love has no man than this,” Jesus says, “that he lay down his life for his friends.” God’s love is defined at the cross. It’s time’s like this that I wish we had a crucifix here that I could point to here in the sanctuary. When you look at the image of the bloody, dying Jesus, you see what love truly looks like.

Our Gospel reading for this morning begins with Jesus predicting exactly that to his disciples. They shouldn’t be surprised in any way by what he tells them at this point. This is the third time, in fact, that he’s predicted his death and resurrection to the disciples. Three times he’s told them that the Son of Man will suffer many things at the hands of sinners – ultimately he will handed over to be crucified. Just as it was with every other time he’d told them, though, they don’t understand. They don’t understand what the love of God truly looks like. Not yet.

The love of God is easy to understand when it looks like the healing miracle that follows, though. A blind beggar meets the party traveling with Jesus on the road. Once he learns that it’s Jesus who’s passing by, he gives a beautiful confession of faith. We may not recognize it as that, but the beggar truly knows who Jesus is. The crowd traveling along with Jesus knows he can work miracles. The crowd knows that Jesus is a great teacher. But they, like Samuel when he went to anoint a new king for Israel and was at first looking for an impressive-looking young man to be king, were also looking for an impressive-looking Messiah. We know little to nothing about what Jesus actually looked like, but all indications are that he wasn’t all that impressive-looking. In fact, Isaiah writes that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” While the crowds looked at Jesus and couldn’t deny that he worked miracles and that he was a powerful teacher, they did not see him as Messiah.

The beggar is different though. Look at what he says when he addresses Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” That title, “Son of David,” is more than simply making a statement about Jesus’ genealogy. In it’s most basic sense, all that means is that Jesus can trace his lineage back to King David. Lots of people could claim that, though. No, this means more. This beggar knows that Jesus is the Messiah. He knows that Jesus is David’s Son and David’s Lord just as David said himself in the Psalter. The crowd tries to silence the beggar’s voice. Jesus is too busy for him. Besides that, this man is probably a terrible sinner. Serious handicaps were often viewed as a direct penalty for sin in Jesus’ day. But the voice of faith cannot be silenced. He continues to cry out after Jesus.

This is what faith does. It clings to the promises of God no matter how many obstacles are placed in its way. The crowd tries to silence the man, but it won’t work. The actions of this blind beggar truly exemplify what it means to pray with all boldness and confidence. This is why God gives his name to us. To pray to him. He desires that we cry out to him for mercy for that is his character. God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. This beggar cries out in faith to Jesus for aid because he knows that Jesus is the gracious, merciful God who is abounding in steadfast love.

Jesus stops and asks that the man be brought before him, then he asks him what he wants him to do for him. That seems like kind of an odd question, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be obvious to Jesus that a blind man would be calling out to him seeking to have his sight? Here’s the thing, though. Not seeing has its advantages. Yes, on the surface being able to see sure seems better than being blind, but remaining in the dark has its advantages, too. You see, this is more than just a matter of physical sight. While this man’s blindness was not necessarily a direct penalty for his sin or perhaps even a sin committed by his parents (as is suggested by Jesus’ disciples when Jesus is approached by a different blind man), blindness is a product of sin. It is evidence of the sinful condition of man. We know full well that living in sin—let’s call it spiritual blindness—is wrong, but we also know that our sinful flesh kind of likes living in sin. Our sinful flesh wants to remain in the comfort of the sin that it knows so well. Coming out of spiritual blindness, that is, directly addressing our sin, is a painful thing. When our eyes are opened to see what we are, we don’t like what we see. We see how truly evil we really are. Not only that, we see that living in sin in this world is comfortable. We pursue the pleasures of this life and this life rewards us with earthly glory. On the other hand, following Jesus offers none of this. Following Jesus leads to suffering.

That’s what ties the two halves of this Gospel reading for today together. Jesus predicts his suffering and death at the hands of sinners. The disciples don’t get it. They are “blind,” so to speak. The blind man sees who Jesus is even though he’s blind. He wants his sight, but Jesus wants to make sure that he understands the implications of gaining his sight. He wants him to know that following him comes at a cost. The blind man knows it and wants his sight anyway. That’s faith.

This Wednesday, Lent begins. Each year as we approach Lent, we are confronted with our sin. We are confronted with our spiritual blindness. We have two options to consider. We can remain comfortable in our sin, or we can confront it head on. As our Hymn of the Day bids us, let us ever walk with Jesus. Look again that hymn. The second stanza begins with the words, “Let us suffer here with Jesus, and with patience bear our cross.” This is what it means that the beggar, now healed of his blindness, followed Jesus. He knew where Jesus was going. He knew that following Jesus meant suffering with him. He knew that following Jesus meant bearing his cross. He knew it meant exposing his own sin. This is what it means for us to follow Jesus. It means that we bear our own sin. It also means, though, that, as the third stanza of the hymn says, “He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath.” That’s why we follow Jesus. We don’t follow Jesus because it will result in earthly pleasure. We follow Jesus even though we know it means suffering and dying with Jesus. We follow Jesus because we know that even though we die with Jesus, we shall also live with Jesus since he has risen from the dead. Let us follow Jesus as we enter Lent this year, for he is the one who, out of love for us, leads us to the cross that we might die with him, but also leads us to life eternal.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sermon for Sexagesima, 2021

Text: Luke 8:4-15

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

Farmers tend to operate on a pretty tight budget. They don’t want to waste anything. They’re going to calculate very carefully exactly how much seed that they need to plant their crops. When they plant their seeds, they make sure that the ground that they plant the seed in is ready for the seed. They till up that soil and fertilize it. They’re careful to make sure that nothing is wasted.

The sower in Jesus’ parable of the sower that we read a few moments ago isn’t a very good farmer, quite frankly. He’s wasteful. He tosses his seed all over the place. He tosses it on the path. He tosses it on the rocky ground. He tosses it in the thorns. Really only twenty-five percent of the seed ends up where its supposed to go.

Just as last week’s parable wasn’t a set of instructions for how to handle your business and your employees, though, this parable is not about giving agriculture advice. This is about the kingdom of God. Things work differently in the kingdom of God.

The sower of the seed is none other than God himself. The seed that he sows is his Word. God doesn’t hold back his seed. He doesn’t do demographic studies before deciding where he’s going to sow it. He doesn’t focus on one age group or one ethnic group. He simply sows the seed. Will all of it bear fruit? No. Some of the seed will fail. Not all who hear the Word of God actually come to faith. In fact, Jesus’ parable even implies that only a fraction of those who hear the Word will actually bear fruit.

Why does so much of the seed fail? Because it falls on soil that isn’t conducive to growing plants. As a matter of fact, Jesus actually describes what each type of soil in this parable represents. The seed that falls on the path and is snatched up by the birds represents how the devil snatches away the seed that is God’s Word before it even has a chance to take root. These are those who don’t really even listen to the Word of God at all. Perhaps they like the way it sounds, but as far as being the live-giving Word of God, that’s another matter. Those who hear the Word of God in this way treat it as if it’s just like any other philosophical work that they find in the world.

The seed that falls on the rocky ground actually does take root. As Jesus says, some receive the Word of God with joy, but, because they have no root, in time of testing they fall away. There is so much in our world that is opposed to the Word of God. Within the confines of the House of God, we have no doubt that what we’re hearing is the truth. But the world challenges that truth when we go out into it. It is the same old trick that the serpent played on Adam and Eve. The serpent prefaces his temptation to Eve with the words, “Did God really say…?” Science that attempts to pit itself against the Word of God on matters such as the six-day creation. Society that calls into question God’s design for sexuality and marriage. We find within institutions in our world that we used to trust, like the public school system, things that are not just secular, but anti-Christian. That word that was sown was received with joy can’t withstand what the world throws at it.

Lest we blame the world or the devil for everything, let’s not forget about the seed that falls among the thorns. Jesus says that the seed that falls among the thorns represents those who are overcome by the cares and riches of life. Yes, the idols that we cling to, the things that bring us pleasure in life, demand our attention. Our flesh craves them. So while the seed takes root, there is competition for our attention and, sadly, the desires of the flesh overcome us and faith is choked out.

Perhaps as we try to apply this parable to our lives, we try to figure out which kind of soil we are. We want to be the good soil, of course. We want the Word of God to take root and bear fruit in abundance. We don’t want to be any of the other inferior soil. But the truth is that we are, at one time or another, all the different kinds of soil. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh—the unholy Trinity as Luther called them—conspire to attempt to destroy our faith. Indeed, if we allow it, that very thing can happen. The Word of God isn’t to blame when faith is lost. The Word of God always does what it says it will do. We heard that promise from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” If faith is lost, it is because the individual rejected the Word. In other words, they have no one to blame but themselves.

It is also true, however, that one cannot make themselves into good soil. The Word alone creates faith. The Word alone is the food that faith needs to survive. As Luther wrote in our Hymn of the Day for today: “Thy people’s pasture is Thy Word Their souls to feed and nourish.” The reason the Word creates faith is that it delivers that which was won on the cross by Jesus. Jesus defeated that unholy trinity through his death and resurrection.

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh continue to conspire to try to rob us of our faith, but they can’t do it. So defeated are they that God even uses them to strengthen our faith. In our epistle for today, St. Paul speaks of a thorn that was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from being too elated. This “thorn” reminded him that the grace of God was enough for him. The Lord promises that nothing can take our faith away from us. The faith that was created in us by his Word and is sustained by his Word can be lost, but only if we decide we’re done with it. That doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t test that faith though. The reason for this testing, though, is to strengthen our faith. So the reality is that the Lord takes the very things that Satan would use to destroy our faith and uses them to strengthen it instead.

So when your faith bears fruit, rejoice! Rejoice that the Lord has used you to love and serve your neighbor and bring glory to his name. And when your faith is tested, rejoice! Rejoice that God is strengthening your faith to withstand the temptations of the evil one. And rejoice all the more that Christ Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil for you and cling to his holy Word that bestows the grace and favor of God on you.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sermon for Septuagesima, 2021

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

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

The Lord often compares Israel to a vineyard. In the Old Testament he speaks of how he carefully put his people in a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey. He took care of his vineyard. He protected it from intruders who sought to destroy it. He carefully pruned it so that it would yield good fruit. There was no reason that it shouldn’t produce good fruit.

The fact is, of course, that God’s people, his vineyard, didn’t produce good fruit at all. God established his people Israel in the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. He promised that he would be their God and they would be his people. He delivered them to victory over their enemies. There was nothing more that he could have done for them. There was no reason that they shouldn’t have produced good fruit. But when the Lord came looking for good grapes, he found only bad.

He found only bad fruit because the workers of the vineyard, his people, turned away from him. They didn’t trust in him for all that is good. They should have remembered all that he had done in delivering them from the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. They should have remembered what he done for them in delivering them from their enemies. Instead, though, they went after other gods. The other gods that they chased after had them looking inwardly at themselves. They no longer recognized that it was Yahweh, the true God who had delivered them from their enemies. They no longer recognized that it was Yahweh who had provided for all of their needs of body and soul. Now they gave all the credit to the Baals and the Ashteroths. Ultimately, they trusted not in God, but in themselves. When things started to go poorly for them, that is, when God disciplined them, they didn’t turn back to him. Instead, they doubled down on their idolatry. They sought aid from the outside world and tried to create alliances with the very foreign nations that God had told them to have nothing to do with.

Finally, because the people rejected God, he sends them into exile. The Lord had told them that so long as they trusted in him for all things that he would be their God and they would be his people. Well, they didn’t keep the covenant. They broke the agreement. Now the Lord removes them from his vineyard. For 70 years, God’s people would live in exile. They would live outside of his vineyard.

Today is Septuagesima. That’s a Latin word that means “seventieth.” That is, today is about the seventieth day counting backwards from the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord. It is good for us to ponder the seventh years of exile that God’s people Israel went through prior to the return to the vineyard, for we, too, have turned to other gods. You may say to yourself, “Oh, I’ve never worshiped another god! I’ve been a Christian my entire life!” God’s Law is clear, though, in that all sin is ultimately idolatry. Each of God’s commandments flow out of the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. That is, we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Having no other gods means that we acknowledge that the only source of all good is God himself. All of our needs of body and soul are provided for by God alone. We did not earn them. They are all gift.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard illustrates well how the people of God turn from a trust in God to a works-based idolatry that focuses on their own accomplishments instead.

A master of a house goes out to hire some workers to work in his vineyard. He promises all of them a denarius, that is, a fair wage. They agree to the wage and go to work. That’s a really important detail in this parable that Jesus tells. The workers agree with the pay. It’s fair. They know what they’re going to get. The master of the house is not in any way deceptive. A few hours later, the master of the house goes out to get more laborers to work in his vineyard. These workers would not have expected to receive the same wage as those hired at the beginning of the day. In fact, the master doesn’t tell them exactly how much they’ll make. He simply says that he’ll give them what is right. The same thing happens three more times. Each time, the master hires them, he promises to pay them a fair wage.

Well, what would a fair wage be? You can do the math. Those hired at the third hour should make less then those hired at the start of the day. Those hired at the sixth and the ninth hour should make even less than that. Those hired at the eleventh hour only worked for an hour. They shouldn’t make much at all.

Of course, that’s not what happens. The master starts paying the workers. He pays those who arrived last, the ones that only worked for an hour, a denarius. That’s what he had promised to the guys he hired at the start of the day! Surely they’ll get even more than he had promised them! That would be fair, wouldn’t it? That, of course, is not what happens though. They agreed to a denarius. That’s what the master promised. That’s what they get. They’re slightly less-than-pleased. Wouldn’t you be? The master simply isn’t being fair.

In telling this parable, Jesus is not giving advice on how to manage a vineyard. What he is doing is illustrating how the kingdom of God works. The kingdom of God is not fair. Thank God that it’s not fair! So often we want to point to our own accomplishments, our own good works and think that we’ve really done something. We want to point to all of the ways that we’ve been morally superior and kept the Law of God. We want to be proud of ourselves. Surely we deserve something from God in return for all of this! This sinful pride, though, is idolatry. When we puff out our chests and revel in all that we’ve done, we’re trusting not in the one, true, God, but in ourselves. We’re trusting that we’ve done enough to warrant God’s favor. There are two problems with this, though. The first is that there is always someone out there who’s done more than you have. There’s always someone out there who deserves God’s favor even more than you do. The second problem is that you always could have done more. There’s always one more person you could have loved better. There’s always one more thing you could have done. God does not come and tell you to try harder. And, for that matter, God doesn’t tell you that as long as you do your best, that’s good enough. God’s Law is so high, so holy, that you will never keep it perfectly.

But look again at the parable that Jesus tells. Did the workers that worked only an hour deserve a full days’ wage? Of course not. Did any of the workers deserve that wage? No. They weren’t given that denarius because they earned it. They were given that denarius because the master wanted to give them each a denarius.

Dear friends in Christ, we are now in exile. We were in exile. We found ourselves outside of God’s favor because our sin. We were spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. But Jesus leads us out of this exile. Jesus comes and suffers the righteous wrath of God for us. Jesus, who is first because he is God made flesh himself, makes himself last by becoming sin for us and dying on the cross in our place. Now you, who were last because of your sin, are made first through his death and resurrection. Your exile is ended in Christ Jesus. You are brought out of this vale of tears and into the eternal vineyard of God where there is no bad fruit, only good.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2021

Text: 2 Peter 1:16-21

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

Epiphany is all about Jesus revealing himself to the world. First he is revealed as the Savior not just for the Jews, but for all nations as the magi come from the east to worship him. This is fulfilling the prophecy made to Abraham that all nations of the earth would be blessed through his offspring. Then we heard about the adolescent Jesus in the temple revealing himself as one who was well-versed in the word of God and who desired to be in the house of the Father. This year we didn’t celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, but it is at Jesus’ baptism that the Spirit of God descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” Then there are the miracles like changing water into wine. Jesus truly is the Messiah, the Son of God!

Today, on Transfiguration Day, we see Jesus revealed as God himself. We see him revealed as the fulfillment of all that is written in the Law and Prophets. Peter, James, and John get to see him in all his glory if only for a moment. His face and his clothes became bright with light. It was a sight to behold, no doubt. And, just as at his baptism, God the Father speaks. He says once again, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased,” but he adds more this time. He says, “listen to Him.”

How is it that we “listen to Jesus?” For the disciples, it was very clear. They had Jesus right there with them. They were being told to pay attention to what he was saying. But what about us? We don’t have Jesus literally walking with us every day and literally preaching to us every day. These words from the Father are for us, too, though. The Father says to us that we are to listen to Jesus.

The way we listen to Jesus is that we listen to his Word. That is, we read the Bible. We come to the Divine Service where the word of God is read and preached. We go to Bible Classes where we dig deeper into the Word of God. That’s how we listen to Jesus. As the author to the letter of the Hebrews said, “In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets. But now, in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son.” The time of the prophets is past. When the disciples looked up after the bright light overshadowed them, Jesus comforted the disciples. When they looked again, only Jesus was there. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus’ Word is all they need now.

Often we think it would simply marvelous if Jesus were to appear to us as he did to Peter, James, and John on that mountain. Wouldn’t it be great if God would speak directly to us like he did to the prophets. Wouldn’t that be something?

During the time I was at the seminary in St. Louis, there was a church nearby to our apartment that had a sign that read “God is still speaking.” It seemed that it was some sort of campaign that was going on in that particular church body at the time because they had all sorts of signage with phrases similar to this. I think there were even some other area churches of the same denomination that had the same. I remember investigating further into this and discovering that this particular church body believed that God was still speaking directly, that is, apart from his revealed word, to them.

This is all very nice and pious-sounding, but God simply doesn’t promise to come to us in this way. He doesn’t promise to speak to us in this way. Look at what St. Peter says: “We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Think about all the things that Peter witnessed and experienced throughout Jesus’ ministry. He saw all the miracles. His own mother-in-law was healed by Jesus. He himself even walked on water. And, most notably for today, he was there on the Mount of Transfiguration to see Jesus as his face shone like the sun and see Moses and Elijah. Even with all of that, though, St. Peter says that we have something more sure. The Word of God is the thing that we need to pay attention to, he says. The Word of God that reveals to us Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World, is that lamp shining in a dark place. Yes, miracles are great. Yes, hearing the voice of God would be great. But we have something better. We have the Word of God that leads us to all truth. We have the Word of God that declares to us that Jesus has suffered the wrath of God for out sins on the cross for us. We have the Word of God that assures us that Jesus rose from the dead because death has no dominion over him. The Word of God ultimately prepares us for the day that Jesus, the fair and bright morning star, returns on the Last Day.

Does God still speak today? Yes, he does. He says all the same things he’s always said. While everything else in this world is constantly changing, you can count on Jesus. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Everything else changes, but Jesus alone does not. He constantly comes to you in his word to give you the assurance of sins forgiven. He delivers this forgiveness in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. And St. Peter adds this. You can be certain that the Word of God is true. These aren’t cleverly-devised myths that someone came up with off the top of their heads. The Bible isn’t a fantasy like the Book of Mormon or the Koran or any of the other so-called holy books of the many other pagan religions in our world. God’s Holy Spirit speaks through the Holy Word of God to deliver the gifts of the cross to the people of God. The world is a dark, constantly changing place. Let the unchanging truths of the scriptures light your path.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sermon for Trinity 11, 2020

Text: Luke 18:9-14

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

It’s sometimes tempting to feel sorry for Cain. Why did God smile on his brother Abel’s offering but have no regard for his? Did he do something wrong? One explanation that we commonly use is just that. We suppose that Cain must have offered inferior goods and, therefore, is offering is rejected. This is actually true, but not for the reason you might think. There was nothing wrong with making an offering of grain. This, after all, was the fruit of Cain’s labor. He worked the ground. It brought forth a harvest. He brought some of the harvest and presented it to God as an offering. This was the proper thing to do. Grain offerings were common among God’s people. In Leviticus 2, in giving specific instructions for grain offerings, Moses repeatedly writes that “it is the most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.” It was perfectly acceptable—even prescribed—to present grain offerings to God, so that’s not the problem here.

The book of Hebrews gives us a little bit of clue about what happened with Cain and Abel. There we read that it was all about faith. “By faith, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous.” Abel offers his sacrifice in faith. Faith in what, though? Faith in Christ. It is only faith in Christ that justifies. It is only through faith in Christ that one is counted as righteous. Abel’s sacrifice was not commendable because cows make better offerings than wheat. Abel’s sacrifice WordItOut-word-cloud-4332755was commendable because Abel knew who he was and he knew who God was. He knew that it was only because of the mercy of God that he had anything and it was only because of God’s mercy that he would one day be saved by the blood of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Cain’s sacrifice, therefore, was rejected, not because of the content of the sacrifice itself, but because of his faith—or lack thereof. Sacrifices that are offered as payments to God expecting something in return are not accepted. Sacrifices like that, like Cain’s, are rejected because they are rendered as payment with the expectation of getting something in return. Cain made his sacrifice to God expecting that he would buy the favor of God with it. The problem is that you can’t buy God’s favor. His assumption was that somehow he had fulfilled the demands of God’s Law and would therefore be recognized as righteous. True righteousness can only be found in the blood of Jesus, though. Abel knew this. Abel had faith in this Jesus who would one day come to redeem him and all sinners. Cain lacked this faith. That was what made his sacrifice insufficient.

This account of Cain and Abel pairs well with our Gospel reading for this morning. Luke basically describes Cain in introducing the parable that Jesus tells of the pharisee and the tax collector. Luke gives the purpose for Jesus’ telling of this parable right up front. He told it “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” This was Cain’s exact problem. He trusted in himself that he was righteous. He presented his sacrifice to God and believed that it warranted God’s approval. The pharisee in the parable thought the same thing. He was such a good person that God and everyone else in the world should be happy just to be in the same room as he is. Jesus really exaggerates with his description of the pharisee in parable to make a point of just how ridiculous it is for one to think that they could possibly earn the favor of God. Look at his prayer! It’s not really even a prayer at all. All it is is a listing off of all his so-called accomplishments. He’s not like all the sinners out there. He does all the good things. He fasts. He makes all the right offerings. Most importantly, he’s not like that tax collector over there. He trusts in his own righteousness. He has contempt for others.

Ultimately, the question that one needs to ask as they come into the Lord’s House is this: “Why am I here?” The answer that Cain gave and the Pharisee gave was that they were there to receive from God what they felt they deserved. They deserved his favor because they were presenting the right sacrifice. It was like a business transaction. Cain was giving his grain offering and deserved to receive God’s favor in return. The Pharisee was there to show how good he was. He was there to show that he had kept God’s Law. He had done what was required of him. God should love him in return. Cain and the Pharisee presented themselves to God with the assumption that they had done enough to earn the favor of God.

When we see the depravity in our world, it’s easy for us to do the same thing. It’s easy for us to look around and see that we aren’t like other men. We aren’t extortioners. We aren’t unjust or adulterers. Hopefully this is actually true on some level. As Christians we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than the rest of the world does. We should, as the baptized, delight in God’s Law because it shows us how to live as his people. We’ll also find that life in general will be more pleasant when we actually do what the Word of God says.

Of course, the other thing that we can’t help but recognize in ourselves as Christians is that we don’t measure up to God’s Law. If we come into this place each week thinking that we’ve done enough, thinking that our lives have actually met the standard that God gives in his Law, we’re sorely mistaken. We’re no better than the pharisee. What the pharisee was doing was lowering the standard of God’s Law. He hadn’t kept God’s Law. He was comparing himself to others. He might have stacked up well to them, but when it comes to actually looking at the Law of God, he came well short. You do the same thing when you think you’ve done enough to earn God’s favor. When you do that, you’re making a liar out of yourself. You’re treating others with contempt thinking that somehow you’re better than they are.

God is compassionate. God shows his compassion in that while we were still sinners he sent Christ to die for us. Jesus was truly righteous. He’s the only one who could actually say all the things that the pharisee in the parable says with a straight face. But he didn’t. Instead, he became sin for you. He took on your sin and suffered the death that you deserved. He humbled himself. In this He actually did earn the favor of God. He actually did present an adequate sacrifice to God for your sins.

So, why are you here? May it be for the same reason that the tax collector was in the temple. The pharisee had presented an inadequate sacrifice. The tax collector presents seemingly less. He presents nothing, in fact. He simply begs for the mercy of God. He knows who he is. He knows he deserves nothing. But he knows who God is. He knows that God is merciful. He trusts in the blood of Christ for his redemption.

In our offertory we sing the words of Psalm 116. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” In other words, how can I pay for that which God gives? If you’re thinking you can’t pay for it, you’re right. Jesus already paid for it. It’s been won for you on the cross. The psalmist continues, “I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” There’s the answer! That’s why you’re here. You’re here to “offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Essentially, the greatest worship that you can offer to God is to ask for more of his gifts. In receiving God’s gifts, that is, in hearing his Word and in receiving the Sacrament, you are doing what the tax collector did. You are declaring to God that you deserve nothing, but you know that in Jesus he is merciful. You are trusting in your merciful God to deliver you from sin. Humble yourselves this day that you might be exalted on the Last Day just as Christ is even now risen and exalted.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Trinity 10, 2020 Sermon

Text: Luke 19:41-48

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

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. There are three times that the scriptures record Jesus in tears. The first was when his friend Lazarus died. There Jesus wept, not just because he was sad that Lazarus had died, but also because of the effects of sin on mankind in general. We learn in the book of Hebrews that Jesus also cried when he was praying to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he prayed that the cup of suffering that he was about to endure might pass from him. Again, this suffering that he was about to endure was necessitated by the sins of mankind. The suffering that he was about to suffer was not for his own sin. He knew know sin. But it was for the sins of the world. He who knew no sin was about to become sin for us. Here in Luke 19, again, Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem. He weeps over Jerusalem because, as he says, they don’t know the “things that make for peace.” More than that, Jesus predicted what was to come in AD 70. Jerusalem would be destroyed. They will be destroyed because “they did not know the time of their visitation.”

Jerusalem holds a very prominent position for Old Testament Israel. This was the capitol city of God’s people. This is where the king’s palace was. Most importantly, this is where the temple was. Inside the temple was the Ark of the Covenant. God dwelt among his people at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where the people came to make their sacrifices. The key, though, is that Jerusalem was a significant city. The temple was significant. The temple was where God made peace with his people. But that’s all in the past. Jerusalem now is historically significant, but not much more. Try telling that to the Jews of Jesus’ day, though. They looked at the magnificent city with the magnificent temple and they believed that because of it they were at peace with God. They thought they were untouchable. Surely these things existed in all their glory as signs of God’s favor among them. God has a way of tearing down idols, though, doesn’t he. This is what will come to pass in AD 70. The thing that the Jews were clinging to with all their might would be taken from them. It wouldn’t just be taken from them, though, it would be utterly and completely destroyed.

Jesus weeps for the people because they’ve put all of their fear, love, and trust into Jerusalem and the temple rather than the God for whom they were built to bring honor and glory. Jesus is the one who comes to bring peace. Jesus is the one who enters on the back of a donkey as a sign of peace. The angels sang of this peace at his birth when they announced it to the shepherds. Jesus comes to Jerusalem—this is the time of their visitation—to make peace with God for all mankind. This will be done on the cross at Calvary about a week after Jesus comes in on the back of the donkey. That’s true peace. But the people are missing it. They’re missing it because they’re looking for the wrong thing. They aren’t looking for a Savior who dies for them. They aren’t looking for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They’re looking for the glory of this world instead.

In 2,000 years not much has changed, sadly. We can actually look back and see all that God has done for us. We have the scriptures that reveal it all. They reveal a Jesus who comes to bring peace in the way only the very Son of God could. We have the Sacraments that, as the Word of God promises, deliver us the peace of Christ as well. All of it is here for us and free. That’s what makes for peace for us. But just like Johnny Lee was looking for love in all the wrong places, God’s people have a bad habit of looking for peace in all the wrong places.

This past week the United Arab Emirates and Israel reached a peace deal. Over the years, peace in the Middle East has been hard to come by. This goes back further than perhaps we realize. The Old Testament even speaks of some of the political unrest that has always plagued that region of the world. For some Christians events in the Middle East hold an even greater amount of interest. Pre-millennialists hold that it’s vital for Jews to be in control of the area known today as Israel because they believe that the scriptures teach that Jesus will return to set up a literal earthly kingdom headquartered in Jerusalem. This played a crucial role in the formation of the new Jewish country of Israel that was created in the late 1940s. Because of this belief, peace between Israel and its neighbors has always been of chief importance. This is where they look for peace. They look here for peace because they aren’t paying attention to where God actually gives peace.

This is why Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and this is why he clears out the temple. The temple was to be a place of prayer—a place of peace, but it had been turned into a den of robbers. It had become a place not where peace was given and received, but where it was supposedly purchased just as one goes to the market to buy groceries. You can’t buy God’s peace, though. The price is too high. Only the blood of Jesus can buy that peace. That’s, again, why Jesus is here in the first place.

Yet, here we are, still trying to make peace on our own. The latest, greatest method is that of social justice. If only we can re-think the way that law enforcement is run we’ll finally have equality and peace in our land. If we get rid of any hint of racism in our past, we’ll get there. Tear down the statues! Re-name the buildings, streets, and cities! We’ll rid ourselves of social unrest if only we can erase the names of those whom we believe oppose it! Will it work, though? It seems there’s always one more name to erase. There’s always one more monument that has to be removed. The world thinks that this will bring peace, but it proves elusive. We’re looking for peace in all the wrong the places.

God’s love for his people is clear. He sends Jesus, his only son, the son whom he loves, to be the once-for all sacrifice for their sins, for your sins. He doesn’t do this because he’s pleased by you. He does this only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you. The death of Jesus is what brings you peace and nothing else. You won’t find it anywhere else.

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because he was there to bring peace and nobody was paying attention. Nobody cared. It wasn’t that his feeling were hurt, it was that they were rejecting the gift he was there to offer. This is why he turned over tables in the temple. He was disrupting the idolatry that had become common in the temple. This is why God allows Jerusalem to be destroyed in AD70. It was still serving as in idol even all those years later. The temple doesn’t matter anymore. Jerusalem doesn’t matter anymore. Those things don’t bring peace. Jesus brings peace. Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple. Jesus, in his death and resurrection, creates the new Israel, his church, of which you are a part. Now the peace that Jesus has won comes to you through the church, delivered through the means of grace.

This is the time of your visitation. This place is holy, not because this building is special, but because God’s Word is proclaimed and heard here. Hear the voice of your Savior forgiving your sins. Taste the body and blood of your Lord Jesus Christ. These are the things that bring you peace. This is the time of your visitation.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Trinity 9, 2020 Sermon

Text: Luke 16:1-9

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

In Luke 16:13 Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money.” Ask anyone what the most common idol that we have in this world is and the answer that will come back is “money.” Some may say that they don’t bow down to money or serve it as a god. When we think of false gods, we tend to think of false religions. We think of Islam or Judaism who worship one god, but reject the true God. They think of Hinduism where they worship multiple gods. They might think of Baal or Ashteroth from the Old Testament. The idea of ordinary objects like money being considered gods might seem odd, but the truth is that we do bow down and serve money. Anything that we put our fear, love, and trust into is a god. We have many gods, no doubt, that we bow down and worship in every day or week of our lives. Money is no exception. Not even close. Think about how much it dominates every aspect of our lives. When we try to decide what we’re going to do for a living, one of the first things we think about—often the first thing that we think about—is money. How well is this career going to pay? Will I make enough to retire at a decent age? Will I be able to buy all the things in life that I want? Will my family and I be able to live comfortably? Will we be able to take the vacations we want to take? It’s a never-ending list. It’s a list that shows just how much we truly bow down and worship the almighty dollar. Wealth dominates our thoughts. Georg Pfefferkorn put it well in the hymn we just sang:

The world seeks after wealth
And all that mammon offers
Yet never is content
Though gold should fill its coffers.

As far as false gods go, it’s a god that constantly demands more. It demands more because there’s always more to be had. And once we get ourselves hooked on a certain level of living, we have this incessant need for more. We can’t imagine living without this or that luxury that we don’t really even think about as a luxury anymore. Yes, the false god of money demands that we serve it more and more.

The parable that Jesus tells this morning in our Gospel reading is a difficult one to fully understand. If it were simply an account of things that happen in the world, it wouldn’t trouble us much. After all, if you’re not good at your job (which this steward was not), you’ll get fired. That’s how it works in the real world. It’s also quite common for the one who’s fired to try and figure out a way to improve his situation using any means necessary. It’s even common for that person who dealt shrewdly to be commended for his dealings. I mean, you have to admire a guy who knows how to work the system, right?

On the other hand, though, there are so many things wrong here from the Christian’s perspective. We know that the Seventh Commandment forbids theft. That’s what’s going on here. This unjust steward is a thief. He steals from his master when he’s wasteful with his master’s possessions. Then he steals from his master again when he, after being notified of his termination, starts slashing the debts of his master’s debtors.

What are to make of this? Is Jesus here advocating dishonesty? No. Remember that Jesus what Jesus says in Matthew 5 regarding the Law of God. Not a single dot of God’s Law will be relaxed until all is fulfilled. That is, until Christ returns on the Last Day. For when Christ returns on the Last Day, we won’t need the Law anymore. We will live as God’s people because it will be the only way to live.

We must look beyond the minor details of this parable and look at the bigger picture. Jesus tells this parable in the midst of a group of parables about money. In Luke 15, Jesus tells of the lost son who squanders his inheritance that was given to him by his father after he wished his father dead. Toward the end of chapter 16, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Right after this parable, Luke refers to the Pharisees, who are listening to Jesus here, as “lovers of money.” Jesus isn’t giving advice here on how to do your job. He’s telling you how you should relate to money. He’s telling you what is not important and by doing that he’s indicating that which is important. If money were important, Jesus wouldn’t tell a parable that told of mismanaging funds. Jesus is telling you, as was said earlier, that “you can’t serve God and money.”

Instead of serving money as we do, we need to make our money serve us. We should tell our money what to do rather than having it dictate our lives. We need to stop making it the most important thing in the world and chasing after it more and more as life goes on. We should use our money to help our neighbor rather than as a way to prop ourselves up over and above our neighbor. When we make money our servant rather than serving it as an idol, we’re using it for its intended purpose.

Money can buy lots of things in this world, but we must remember what it can’t buy. When the end comes, it’ll be worthless. However much money you gather and whatever stuff you buy will be completely useless when the end comes. Money can’t buy that which is the most important. It’s can’t buy God’s favor. The favor of men? Sure. But not God’s favor. God’s favor can only be bought with the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. At the cross, Jesus paid this price and because of it, we now have the priceless treasures that money can’t buy: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!

Because you have this treasure, money doesn’t matter. You already have that which can’t be purchased. Now you become the master of your wealth. Money makes a really poor god. It can’t save you. But it is useful. You have freely received God’s gifts given to you through Christ Jesus. Now freely give of your wealth—your unrighteous wealth—to support the preaching of the Gospel to all, both near and far. You love and serve your neighbor by helping them in their time of need.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized