Sermon for Palmarum, 2021

Text: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-9

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

Jesus enters into Jerusalem to shouts of exultation. Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The people were right to rejoice at Jesus’ arrival. This is God in the flesh, after all. More than that, Jesus comes to do exactly what they want him to do. Hosanna means “save us now.” In just a few days, Jesus will do just that. He will save them as he will hang from the cross, earning redemption for all people of all time.

This redemption was made necessary because, unlike Jesus, man does count equality with God as something to be grasped. Every sin that is committed is, at its root, idolatry. It places fear, love, and trust into something or someone besides the true God. When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the garden of Eden, he told them that God didn’t want her to eat of the fruit of the tree because he knew that their eyes would be opened and that they would be like God. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, so they took the fruit and they ate. We repeat this sin over and over again, day after day. We want to be like God. That is, we want to make our own rules. We want to live our lives the way we want to live our lives. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. More than that, we want everyone to recognize how wonderful we are. We want them to notice every little thing we do and commend us for it. After all, we deserve their respect. Satan comes to us with the same temptation that he came to Adam and Eve with: do this, whatever “this” is, and it’ll be way better than anything God has in mind for you. And we fall for it over and over again. We try to put ourselves in the place of God. We count equality with God as something to grasp.

Jesus deserved every single one of the hosannas that came his way on that first Palm Sunday. He could have had it all if he wanted it. He was well-loved by the people as a whole. Yes, the leaders of the Jews hated him, but that was nothing that a little well-planned (or even just spirited) revolt couldn’t overcome. Besides all of that, though, Jesus is the Son of God. He is God himself! He is the one who created all things in the universe. He’s the one who sustains the every need of his creation. There is truly nothing that he can’t do.

This is not, however, the way that Jesus operates. He never has. Jesus had equality with God. St. John writes that Jesus, the Word made flesh, was with God in the beginning. He is God. There is nothing that was made in the universe that wasn’t made by him. Jesus has equality with God for eternity. But he did not count this as something to be grasped. That is, he didn’t hang on to. He could have, but he didn’t. He willingly sets aside his glory. This past Thursday was the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord. Every March 25 it comes around. It always lands somewhere during Lent, in fact. This is when the angel Gabriel came and announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior of the World – that she would be the Mother of God Himself. This is the beginning of what we call Christ’s state of humiliation. As a man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sets aside his divine abilities and doesn’t use them. Instead, he makes himself like us. He humbles himself and puts himself under the authority of those who should have been under his authority. This was the case throughout his life. As a young boy, he obeyed Mary and Joseph as his father and mother even though he was their God. As a man, he obeyed his governing authorities, exhorting the people to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, even though he was the source of their authority, whether it be religious or secular. As he rides into Jerusalem, he could have entered in on a powerful horse ready for conflict and war and taken his rightful place on the throne in the palace, but instead he comes in humbly, mounted on the back of a donkey. There will be conflict for Jesus during Holy Week, but not armed. Instead, his humiliation will take him all the way to the cross. He is, indeed, obedient unto death – even death on a cross.

At the cross, the height of Jesus’ humiliation, his greatest work is accomplished: the sins of the world are paid for. Your sins are paid for. The obedience of the obedient One is credited to you. You are forgiven and redeemed. Jesus said “it is finished” from the cross, and it was. Salvation is accomplished for you.

For Christ, the humiliation ends with his burial. Now he is exalted. The Father accepts his sacrifice and now Jesus, as a man, is exalted. The one who humbled himself when he didn’t have to is now rightfully exalted. Now every knee will bow to him. Not every knee will necessarily have faith, but every knee will bow. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord because there is now no more denying it. In his exalted state, there is no doubt about who Jesus is. The glory of Jesus that was hidden during his humiliation will be revealed for all to see plainly.

So it is with our salvation. We live ordinary lives that seem to not have any advantage over the lives of the pagans. That’s because the kingdom of God is revealed in such ordinary means. Jesus comes among us today not in miracles and laser shows, but hidden in water, Word, bread, and wine. Make no mistake about it, these means are powerful, but they are unassuming. The world looks at them with indifference and perhaps even disdain, but we know that these means deliver to us forgiveness, life, and salvation. We also know that when the exalted Christ appears on the Last Day, our mortal bodies will be exalted and made like his glorious resurrected body.

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

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Sermon for Wednesday of Judica, 2021

Text: 2 Samuel 11::1–13

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

When we confess our sins, Luther encourages us to examine our place in life according to the Ten Commandments. “Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” When we actually do that, it’s impossible to not come to the conclusion that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. That’s key, though. If we don’t ever examine ourselves, we’ll never fully realized the depth of our sin. In fact, if sin is left alone and never struggled against, we can become calloused to it to the point that we don’t really even remember doing anything wrong in the first place.

Such was the problem with David. David’s sins are plain for us to see. When David saw Bathsheba bathing, he should have turned around and went back into the palace. Instead, his eyes lingered. He liked what he saw. David already had a wife. He had more than one wife, in fact. But here he sins against the Tenth Commandment. He covets Uriah’s wife. He is not content with what he has. That wasn’t all, though, of course.

Breaking the Tenth Commandment often leads to the breaking of the Sixth Commandment. David commits adultery with Bathsheba. Then Bathsheba discovers that she’s pregnant with David’s child. It can’t be Uriah’s. Uriah is off at war. David is left with a choice: come clean or cover it up. Coming clean means David’s reputation will be ruined. Can’t have that. He chooses to try and cover it up instead.

So he calls Uriah home and tries to get him to sleep with his wife. That way when she has a baby it will look like it was Uriah’s child. Uriah will have none of that, though. It doesn’t seem fair to him that he gets to be with his wife while all the rest of the army is still out in the battlefield. In concealing the truth from Uriah, David breaks the Eighth Commandment. Then he breaks the Fifth Commandment by getting Uriah drunk in hopes that he won’t realize what he’s doing and go and sleep with his Bathsheba anyway. When that doesn’t work, David arranges to have Uriah killed in such way that it looks like an accident. In the end, David is able to take Bathsheba as his wife since her husband is dead.

When we read this account, we see David’s sin. But Israel didn’t. To the nation of Israel, it looked like David married a widow of a brave soldier that died in a tragic accident. To the nation of Israel it looked like David and Bathsheba’s baby was conceived after they were married. David had succeeded in getting away with adultery and murder.

But the fact is that you can’t hide your sins from God. David, over time, had likely even convinced himself that he was in the clear. If he had truly reflected on the matter, he probably would have seen them for himself, but he didn’t.

It is quite true that we can confess our sins directly to our Father in heaven. He do this every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, in fact. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we pray. God hears that prayer and God forgives us. It is also true, however, that there are sins that we know and feel and in our hearts. These are the sins that stick with us. These are the ones that we can’t bear to think about because we’re so ashamed by them. These are the sins that get buried into the recesses of our minds to the point that we stop thinking about them. This was David’s problem. David needed a pastor to come and help him. That’s where Nathan comes in.

Notice how Nathan comes to David gently. He doesn’t just tell David, “You committed adultery. You had a man killed.” Who knows how David would have reacted that. He might have simply gotten angry with Nathan, called him a liar, and had him shown the door. He is the king, after all.

Instead, Nathan puts David on the outside looking in. He tells a parable about a rich man who has plenty of sheep to feed his guest, but, instead of taking from his own flock to feed his guest, he takes the only sheep of a poor man. David is filled with rage at the rich man in Nathan’s parable an says he deserves to die. Then come the haunting words from Nathan’s mouth, “You are the man.” Now Nathan can actually spell out for David what he had done. Did he tell David anything he didn’t already know? No. David knew what he did. But did David understand the depth of his depravity? No. David needed Nathan to help him examine himself. David’s confession is but a few words. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he says. The absolution that comes from Nathan is equally as short: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” While that last bit may seem harsh, recall what David said the man in Nathan’s parable deserved to die. Death was, in fact, the penalty for what David had done. But, as Nathan says, David will not be put to death. His sins are forgiven.

We tend to think of going to confession as a purely Roman Catholic thing, but the Lutherans have always clearly confessed that we retain the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution. We retain it because we need it. We attempt to examine our lives according to the Ten Commandments, but sometimes we need help. That’s where our pastor comes in. He comes to help us realize the depth of our depravity.

He does not do this for the sake of torture, though. His goal is not that we feel horrible about ourselves. That was not Nathan’s goal, either. Nathan wanted to forgive David. Nathan wanted to forgive David because God wanted to forgive David. The same is true of our pastors today. The forgiveness that is pronounced in the absolution is not the forgiveness of the pastor, it is the forgiveness of God. Your pastor wants to forgive your sin because God wants to forgive your sin.

The reason that God wants to forgive sins is that the price for sin has already been paid. The punishment for your sin is death, but you shall not die, for the that price was paid by Christ in his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. Jesus’ death created a treasury of forgiveness that will never run out. Your heavenly Father doesn’t want that gift of forgiveness to simply lie there and never get used. No, he wants to give it to you. This is why Jesus breathes on his disciples, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He wants them to take the benefit of sins forgiven at the cross and give that gift to all people. This is why the church as a whole exists. It exists to forgive sins. This is why churches call pastors. To forgive your sins. And you can be certain that whatever is loosed here on earth by your pastor is also loosed in heaven.

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

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Sermon for Judica, 2021

Text: John 8:46-59

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

“If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death,” Jesus said. These words infuriated the scribes and Pharisees. They couldn’t believe that Jesus would say such a thing. After all, everybody dies. This is a classic example of missing the point. Adam and Eve didn’t drop dead on the spot when they ate from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil even though God said that they would die on the day they ate of it. But Adam and Eve really did die. They died spiritually. They were separated from God in their act of disobedience. By the same token, when Jesus says that those who have faith in him will never die, what he means is that they have eternal life even now. Physical death will come, but even though they die, those who have faith in him will live for eternity.

The truth is that the scribes and Pharisees weren’t so dumb that they didn’t know what Jesus meant. When they point out the fact that Abraham and the prophets died, they’re mocking Jesus. They have no faith in him at all and don’t believe that he is who he says he is. Never mind the fact that they have no evidence to refute any of Jesus’ claims. They never have been able to refute anything that Jesus says. Time and time again they try to trap him in his words and silence him, but each time they try, they are the ones who are silenced because they can’t come up with a concrete refutation of anything that he says. Jesus speaks the truth. They know he speaks the truth. But they don’t like what he says, therefore they declare that he has a demon simply because they can’t come up with anything better.

The scribes and Pharisees are false teachers. They are false because they promote a doctrine of works-righteousness that pins the hope of salvation on the works of man. They believe they are saved because they are the children of Abraham and, as they say, have never been slaves of anyone. They believe that God actually smiles upon them because of their good works. Jesus comes preaching a different doctrine. He comes preaching the truth. Salvation does not come through works or through blood relationships. It comes through him. Salvation is through Jesus and his blood and righteousness alone. The scribes and Pharisees refuse to believe Jesus. Jesus does not mince his words when he refutes the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. They are of the devil, he says. Jesus generally speaks with meekness and compassion. Think about how he deals with prostitutes and tax collectors, patiently exposing their sin to them in such a way that they may repent and receive the good news of salvation. Not when it comes to false teaching, though. The Pharisees and scribes were angered by Jesus’ directness.

Not much has changed in the world. Many still bristle at the idea of attacking false teaching head-on. Instead, the spirit of ecumenism dominates. Rather than tackle theology and search for truth in the Word of God, so many instead either decide to agree to disagree or compromise truth just for the sake of getting along. Churches will sign agreements that state that there is agreement where there is no agreement. They will go out of their way to avoid saying that anyone is wrong. The concept of absolute truth is completely lost.

Two things that are opposites of each other can’t both be true. Either Jesus death is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin or it isn’t. Either Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, or he’s not. You can say the same thing about the sacraments. Either baptism saves or it doesn’t. The Lord’s Supper either is Jesus’ body and blood, or it’s not. You can’t have it both ways. And that scares us. It scares us because we know and love people who hold to unscriptural positions when it comes to the things of God and it makes us really uncomfortable to say that anyone is wrong. We so easily cave to the pressure to simply get along rather than speak the truth.

Jesus challenges the scribes and the Pharisees to prove him wrong. “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me?” Jesus says. The truth both unites and divides. The truth unites in that it provides a common ground for each of us to point to and say that we hold it to be true. It divides in that is separates truth from error. May we be bold in standing on the truth of God’s Word. May we, like Jesus, challenge those who challenge us to find in the Word of God where we have erred.

Jesus claims to be the Son of God. Jesus claims to be able to grant salvation to all who believe in him. There are both comforting and terrifying at the same time. They are comforting to all who have faith in the words that Jesus speaks. Anyone who keeps his word will never taste death. To keep his word is to have faith in him. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” St. John writes that “whoever has the Son has life.” Those words bring great comfort. But for those who have not faith, they are terrifying. Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him. St. John adds that whoever does not have the Son does not have life. Peter preaches that there is salvation in no one else besides Jesus. These words of the scriptures offend many just as Jesus’ claims offended the Pharisees and scribes. It offended them so much that they picked up stones to stone him.

Jesus would not die in the temple that day, yet. His hour had not yet come. Today begins the period of Lent that we refer to as Passiontide. Passiontide will culminate on Good Friday where we will remember the death of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the only one who ever kept the Law of God perfectly. Where we shied away from speaking the truth, Jesus proclaimed it boldly. He is the only one who can truly cry out the words of our Introit for today. “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” The ungodly are those who put Jesus to death on the cross. They were deceitful and unjust. They knew Jesus was telling the truth and they killed him anyway. In his resurrection, Jesus was vindicated, though. Because we have been baptized into the death of Jesus, we have been united with him. Just as Jesus was vindicated by the Father, we too will be vindicated on the Last Day.

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

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Sermon for Wednesday of Laetare, 2021

Text: Matthew 28:16-20; Colossians 2:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22

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

It is true that God is everywhere, but he is not necessarily everywhere for you. In other words, the fact that God is omnipresent is not necessarily a comfort. God fills his creation, but he doesn’t attach his promises to everything we see. Instead, in his grace and mercy, he identifies and sets apart very specific places where he puts himself for your benefit. We call these things sacraments. The sacraments, that is, baptism, confession, and the Lord’s Supper, are where you can be certain that God is working for you. No, God can’t be put into a box, but God does put himself into boxes where you know he is.

If you want to have a theological argument here in the South, just bring up the topic of baptism. Differences of opinion abound when it comes to who should be baptized, who should to the baptizing, how one should be baptized, how the baptizing is done, and how old a person should be before they are baptized. In the end, however, our own opinions mean nothing. We may have our own thoughts about how to answer all of those questions, but if they aren’t informed by the Word of God, they are worthless. Instead of opinions, let us instead form our thoughts on baptism on the concrete words of scripture. Luther’s Small Catechism aides us in tackling what the scriptures teach about baptism by telling us what baptism is, what it does, how it does what it does, and what it means.

By definition, in order to have a baptism, you must have water. The word that is translated from the Greek into English for us that means “baptize” simply means to apply water in a ceremonial way. There is no insistence on a certain mode of applying water, just that water is applied. On the one hand, there’s nothing special about water used for baptism. It comes from the same place as all the other water that we use for drinking, washing, or cooking. The water used in baptism is different than other water for only one reason: the word and promises of God are attached to it. The water in your sink washes things. The water in your glass re-hydrates you. The water you cook with causes food to have the proper flavor and texture. The water of baptism makes one a disciple of Christ. That’s what Jesus promises in Matthew 18. There he says that the way that disciples are made is that they are baptized and taught. Therefore, in baptism, the water is not just plain water, but it is water that is included in God’s command to baptize, and combined with his word that promises great blessings.

The blessings of baptism are where you will quite often run into arguments with other Christians. They will often go out of their way to try and make it clear that baptism doesn’t actually do anything. They will say that it doesn’t forgive sins. They will say that it doesn’t provide salvation. They will say that it’s only a symbolic act that shows what’s happening on the inside of a person, but it doesn’t actually do anything. This is where we must look to the Word of God. If you sit down with a concordance and look up the word “baptism,” you’ll find that almost everywhere it’s mentioned it’s got the promise of forgiveness of sins or salvation tied to it. In Mark 16, Jesus says that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. In Acts 2, Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. In 1 Peter 3, which I read a few moments ago, it says that baptism now saves you. When we say that baptism forgives sins or that baptism saves, we aren’t saying something radical or provocative; we’re simply saying what God says about baptism.

So then is baptism a “get out of jail free” card? Does the simple act of baptism bring salvation even if the person being baptized has no faith? By no means. Faith receives the blessings of the gift. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples about making disciples. They are to baptize and teach them. Baptism is our entry into the Church. Faith is created in baptism, but it needs to be sustained. It needs to be fed throughout our lives by the Word of God which strengthens it as we hear again and again the promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Christ Jesus and his death and resurrection. Much of the confusion around the role of faith in baptism has to do with the difference between passive and active faith. Faith that does things is active. Active faith manifests itself in acts of love toward our neighbor. Passive faith is the faith that receives. This is the type of faith that’s at work (or rather, not working) in baptism. God gives gifts as promised in his word. We believe what the Word of God says to be true and we receive the benefits of these gifts. Think about the little children that were brought to Jesus that he might touch them. Did they do anything? No. They didn’t even bring themselves into the presence of Jesus. They were brought by someone else. There was no work on their part. This is why infant baptism is the greatest illustration of salvation by grace alone. Infants are clearly completely passive when it comes to baptism. They are only on the receiving end of God’s gifts. So it is with everyone who comes to be baptized. It is not an act of obedience that they’re doing or a statement of what they believe. It is God’s action on them.

The Lord is not done working on us or in us after our baptism. Rather, the work is just beginning. For that matter, Satan tries every day to destroy the faith that was given to us in our baptism. Luther says that baptism indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before him in righteousness and purity forever. Daily we battle our Old Adam, that is, our inclination toward sin. Daily we rise to new life. We do this living the life of the baptized. The life of the baptized is not a life lived in sinless perfection. It is a life lived the realization that we have sinned against God in thought, Word, and deed. It is a life that sees that left to ourselves, we have no hope. But it is also a life lived in the knowledge that in our baptism we died with Christ and that in his death, Jesus destroyed sin and death. Just as we died with Christ in our baptism, we also are raised daily to new life in him in the joy of sins forgiven.

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

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Sermon for Laetare, 2021

Text: John 6:1-15

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

There is a theory that has been put forth by liberal Biblical scholars that the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 was a not a miracle at all, but that it was a lesson that Jesus was teaching. Jesus, they say, wanted to teach us about the importance of sharing what we have with others. Now, that is a rather important lesson. It’s a lesson that is taught to us by the seventh commandment. The seventh commandment forbids stealing, but also makes it clear that the reason that God gives us gifts is that we might use them in service to others. It is also true, that the boy with the five loaves of barley bread and two fish shared what he had with the crowd. The boy who had the food probably didn’t leave with any of the leftovers, either. It was truly an act of love that he was willing to share what he had. But the place where this theory that this isn’t a miracle at all falls apart with the fact that there were twelve baskets full of bread left over. If it truly were a matter of those sharing with those who had nothing, there would be no leftovers. Everything would be eaten and most folks wouldn’t have eaten their fill. They would have eaten just enough not to starve. But John makes it clear here that everyone had as much as they wanted. Besides all of that, John also provides the detail that Jesus asks Philip about buying bread but that he already knew what he was going to do. He was just saying this to Philip in order to test him. Jesus knew what he would do. Jesus was going to do something. No, this truly was a miracle that Jesus performed right before the eyes of the crowd of 5,000 and in front of his disciples. Rather than speculate how we might explain away the miracle, let us instead concentrate on what Jesus does and teaches through the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus hadn’t planned on dealing with a crowd at all on this day. He had taken his disciples with him up on a mountain that he might teach them. Jesus spent quite a bit of time teaching his disciples. After all, they were to be his apostles – sent out into all the earth to proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus. But, as is often the case when someone who’s gained popularity tries to get away from the crowds, the crowds find them. The crowds kept coming after Jesus. Wouldn’t you? After all, Jesus was, as John says, performing all kinds of signs on the sick. That is, he was healing the sick. The crowds were looking for more signs. They were looking for Jesus to continue doing more of the same. Even with all of that in mind, though, they certainly didn’t expect what happened next.

It might strike us as rather odd that nobody except for a young boy thought ahead enough to bring food along as they tried to follow Jesus, but we can all relate to the idea of not really thinking clearly when we’re excited. These people simply weren’t thinking about the basic physical needs of their bodies as they pursued Jesus. The fact is, though, that they are not in a place to get food. Jesus has brought the disciples out to a mountain. They can’t go to the market. Jesus can’t simply send them away. They won’t make it. Something has to be done. So Jesus does something. Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish and he feeds the 5,000 with it. Not only that, but Jesus has the disciples collect the leftover bread at the end and there’s far more bread than what they had even started with. The people rejoice at this miracle. They rejoice that their bellies are full, but, more importantly, they rejoice that, as they say, “the Prophet has come into the world.” This is a reference to a promise that the Israelites had heard long ago from Moses. Moses was near death and giving his farewell address to the people. He told them that God would give them a prophet like Moses, but better. This prophecy of Moses was a Messianic prophecy. He was talking about Jesus. The people realize it. There’s even an obvious tie-in to Moses. Moses was God’s representative on earth when Manna fed them in the wilderness. Now Jesus, in even more miraculous fashion, feeds the people in a desolate location. This, indeed, is cause for rejoicing.

This is very appropriate for today. Today is Laetare Sunday. Laetare is Latin for “rejoice.” As is often the case for the Latin names for the Sundays In the Church year, it comes from the opening words of our Introit for today. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” But the next question might be, “Why, during Lent, do we have a Sunday that’s about rejoicing?” Lent is a penitential season. It’s a time to reflect upon our sins and upon the suffering and death of Jesus Christ was that necessitated by the sins of mankind. That doesn’t seem like a reason to rejoice. After all, the Church even ceases from speaking and singing Alleluias during Lent. The Church foregoes the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis during Lent. Next week, we’ll even refrain from using the Gloria Patri at the end of our Psalms and canticles.

Lent is, in a way, a microcosm of our entire life. Lent is a time of restrained joy. Our life so often seems to lack joy. We recently marked one year since the coronavirus forced us to change the way that we live. While some of those restrictions seem to be easing up a bit and some sense of normality returns, the fact is that it has robbed us of joy over the past twelve months. We’ve missed gathering with family, friends, and fellow Christians. Vacations have had to be canceled. Loved ones who are in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been forced to live in isolation that’s affected their mental and physical health in some cases beyond repair. Lives have been lost both directly and indirectly. All of this is on top of the effects that we see of sin all around us in our world. We are robbed of joy as we realize that we’ve hurt others with our thoughts and actions. We’re robbed of joy as we witness the most vulnerable in our world suffer abuse and neglect. Just as Lent calls to mind our sin, we can’t help but see sin and its effects all around us in the world. We truly live in a desolate world.

Jesus enters into this desolate world, though. He comes today, bringing healing. His death and resurrection almost 2,000 years ago paid the price for all the sins of the world and restored peace between God and man. There at the cross Satan was defeated. Even in defeat, Satan still comes after us, though. Again, the evidence of evil is everywhere. Sin, death, and the devil conspire together to make the world a desolate place, but Jesus comes to bring food for the journey. He gave bread and fish to the hungry crowd. He gives his body and blood to us as we hunger and thirst for righteousness today. The psalmist encourages us to rejoice and as he compares Jerusalem to a mother. The Church is Jerusalem, and the Sacrament as her consoling breast. Just as an infant nurses at his mother’s breast, we nurse at the consoling breast of the Church. That is, we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the priceless treasure who comes to us in his body and blood that we might eat, drink and be satisfied. Rejoice this day, dear friends in Christ, for Jesus has given you reason for joy in sins forgiven.

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

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Sermon for Wednesday of Oculi, 2021

Text: The Lord’s Prayer; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Matthew 8:5-13

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

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he did them one better. He gave them the actual words to pray. While the Lord’s Prayer is certainly not the only prayer that we pray, it is the best prayer that we could possibly pray. This is not a matter of calling other prayers “bad” or saying that we shouldn’t pray any other prayers. This is simply the fact that the very words that Jesus gives us to pray are always going to be better than anything that we could come up with on our own.

The Lord’s Prayer starts off with an address. It’s simple. We begin with the words, “Our Father.” While only two words long, there’s a lot going on here. First of all, we are acknowledging that God is, indeed, our Father. A relationship was created between our heavenly Father and us in our baptism. It was there that we were claimed as his own. He put his name on us and gave his name to us that we might pray to him. This is what God bids us to do in the Second Commandment where he says “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” There are lots of ways to use the name of God incorrectly, but he wants us to use it rightly. He wants us to call upon him in the day of trouble, for he has promised to answer us. He wants us to cry out to him just as we cry out to our earthly Fathers in this world. That is, he desires us to be bold in our prayers, not timid. Consider the way that the Canaanite woman came to Jesus seeking deliverance for her demon-possessed daughter. She didn’t let anything deter her from asking Jesus for what she needed. She knew that he would listen. She knew that he would do what was right. Our fathers here on earth don’t always give us what we want right away. Sometimes they don’t give it to us at all because they know that what we’re asking for isn’t the thing that we need or that’s best for us. God our heavenly Father is the same way, but better. While our fathers on earth sometimes make mistakes, God doesn’t. He always gives us what is right, even if that means not giving us what we ask for in prayer.

The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer establishes a pattern. We are praying for things that God already promises or that are already true. God’s name is already holy. It doesn’t depend on our prayer. But by praying that God’s name be kept holy, we’re praying that God’s Word would be taught in all of its truth and purity. We’re praying that we might lead holy lives that bear witness to the name of God because, again, he put his name on us. Anything that we do reflects on him.

The second petition prays that God’s Kingdom would come. Again, whether you pray that God’s kingdom comes or not, it’ll come. When we pray this petition, we’re praying for two things: First, that God’s kingdom would come among us, now. That is, we want the preaching of the Word of God to continue among us. We want the sacraments to continue to be administered faithfully among us. These means of grace bring the benefits of the cross to, forgiveness, life, and salvation, to us right now. The second thing is related to the first. Because God’s kingdom comes to us now, it prepares us for the second coming of Jesus when the full and complete Kingdom of God will come.

The third petition prays that God’s will would be done. God’s will is going to be done no matter what. We’re praying against the devil here, though. For the devil doesn’t want God’s name to be kept holy or the kingdom of God to come. He doesn’t want the Word of God to be taught rightly and he doesn’t want the sacraments to be administered according to the institution of Christ. These are the things that bring forgiveness and salvation – two things that Satan wants to prevent from happening.

The Fourth petition prays for our daily bread. This is about more than food, though. Daily bread includes a whole laundry list of blessings. It certainly includes literal bread, that is, food and drink. But it also includes all those things that we like to call “First Article Gifts.” First article gifts are all the things that God gives us to support our bodies and lives. And he gives them all to us freely. He even gives them to evil people, that is, unbelievers. We don’t pray the fourth petition out of fear that if we don’t we’ll starve to death. Rather, we pray the fourth petition confidently as a petition of thanksgiving that God gives us abundantly all that we need to support our bodies and our lives.

The fifth petition has us praying for forgiveness. This is where we confess not only the sins that we’re aware of, but also the sins that we’ve committed that we don’t even know about. We know that God forgives us for the sake of Christ. At the same time, we’re praying that God would aid us in the sometimes difficult task of forgiving those who sin against us. When we come to the full knowledge and understanding of God’s forgiveness for us, we also sincerely forgive those who sin against us.

In the sixth petition, we pray that God would not lead us into temptation. Again, we know that God is not the source of temptation. God tempts no one. But Satan does. This is a prayer that we would stand firmly on the Word of God, just as Jesus did when he was tempted, and thus turn back all that Satan tries to hurl at us.

The seventh and final petition is a summary petition. We are praying for deliverance from the evil one, that is, the devil himself. The devil doesn’t want any of the things that you prayed for to happen. He doesn’t want God’s name to be kept holy. He doesn’t want the kingdom of God to come. He doesn’t want God’s will to be done. He doesn’t want you to have your daily bread. He wants you to feel guilt for your sins without forgiveness and doesn’t want you to forgive others. And he wants you to fall into temptation. The devil want your faith to be destroyed and for you to suffer eternally in hell with him. That’s what he wants. But you can be certain that that won’t happen. For he has been defeated by Christ at the cross. His head is crushed. When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, you can be certain that you will be raised to immortality and incorruption because just as you died with Christ, you will be raised with him, too.

Amen is a small word, but a very powerful one. We say it as a word that says that everything that just came before it is true. We say it knowing that God has promised to hear us when we pray and has promised what is best for us, even if that’s not what we want.

Consider St. Paul. He prayed that God would take the “thorn in his flesh” away. He didn’t though. Instead, he said, “my grace is sufficient for you.” God’s power is made perfect in weakness. When we pray, it might seem as if nothing happens. It may seem as if nothing changes. But know that God’s power is alive and active in this world. Know that God hears your prayer for the sake of Christ. Know that the will of God is always best. Have confidence, just as the centurion did, that God will do the right thing at the right time.

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

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Sermon for Oculi, 2021

Text: Luke 11:14-28

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

In the opening address of our Rite of Holy Baptism, the pastor says: “The Word of God teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as his own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.” Those are strong words. They’re strong words that teach us about the reality of living in this evil world. It’s an evil world where everything is backwards and upside down. Things that are good are called evil and things that are evil are esteemed as good. We saw exactly this with the way that Jeremiah’s words were received. Jeremiah spoke the truth. He prophesied that Jerusalem was headed for destruction. Rather than listen to the Word of the Lord that Jeremiah proclaimed, those that heard him declared that he deserved to die. In Jerusalem before the exile, good was declared evil.

It happens in our Gospel reading from Luke, too. Good is declared evil. Jesus is good. In fact, he is the only one who is good. Remember, when Jesus is addressed by the rich young ruler he calls Jesus “Good Teacher.” He was right in calling Jesus good, for as Jesus responds to him, “No one is good but God alone.” Jesus who is both true God and true man is good, yet these people call him evil. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” they say.

This isn’t just a simple, harmless insult. This is evil. These people are not just calling Jesus names, they are outright rejecting him. They have heard the truth of God’s Word. They know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. The proof is everywhere. The words that Jesus speaks are true. The miracles that he’s performed bear witness to who he is. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is the only thing that is good in the evil world into which he comes. They know that Jesus comes to save them. But they reject him anyway. They have hardened their hearts.

The sin against the Holy Spirit is the only sin that cannot be forgiven. When a person rejects the Holy Spirit, their fate is sealed. This is what happened with Pharaoh in Exodus. He hardened his heart. He saw the wonders that God was doing right before his eyes. He knew that the Lord was the one, true God, and he didn’t care. He rejected him anyway. After that, the Lord turned Pharoah over to his own sin. He would save his people Israel, but there would be no redemption for Pharaoh just as there was no redemption for these people who say that Jesus is in league with Satan.

Sometimes we may feel as if we have no faith. We may fear that we really aren’t God’s children. We look all around us and see the really “good” Christians doing all kinds of wonderful things and think that we’ve failed. They’re out there giving to charity and volunteering to feed and clothe the homeless. And what do we see when we look inwardly at ourselves? We see sin. We see all the things that we could be doing and we’re not doing. Our sins are so many that maybe we think it’s not possible for God to forgive them. “Yes,” we say, “Christ has claimed me as his own in Holy Baptism, but that was so long ago. Perhaps it’s not any good anymore.”

Christ has claimed you as his own in Holy Baptism. May we never think this is a small matter! Satan, the strong man who guards his palace, has been disarmed by Jesus at the cross. You were once part of the “goods” that Satan guarded and kept in his palace, but not anymore. The stronger man has come and disarmed Satan. Jesus is the stronger man who overcomes sin, death, and the devil for you. This victory of Christ is credited to your account in your baptism. There at the font your sins were covered by Jesus.

But the problem is that even though Christ claimed you as his own in your baptism, even though it says you were once dead in your sins and trespasses and you were under the power of Satan, the devil doesn’t give up very easily. The devil continues to send temptations your way, trying to do whatever he can to destroy your faith. He tries to convince you that good is evil and evil is good. He comes back with reinforcements. These reinforcements will point to your sin and say your not good enough. They will come to you in the form of false prophets who try and tell you that your baptism doesn’t count because it wasn’t a “believer’s baptism,” or it wasn’t a baptism done by immersion, so it didn’t count. They will scoff at the idea that Christ’s actual body and blood are given to you to eat and to drink here in the Divine Service. “That’s impossible and it’s salvation by works,” they’ll tell you. These reinforcements from Satan will entice you with the things of this world. They’ll tell you that you deserve so much more than what God has given you. They’ll tell you that if you want to succeed in this world you’ll have to forsake the things of God. You’ll need to blend in with the culture and give up on Biblical morality because you can’t get ahead in life that way. Yes, in your baptism the house that is your soul was all swept and in order, but the father of lies returned and he brought friends with him to make it an even bigger mess than it was before.

Luther addresses this problem in the Small Catechism where he gives the answer to the fourth question on Holy Baptism: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six, we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

How many times must a person be baptized? Once. But how many times must a person be converted? Every day. Your baptism was good and valid. It wasn’t valid because you believed it was valid. It wasn’t valid because of who baptized you. It was valid because God in his Word granted you all the benefits of Holy Baptism. You don’t need to be baptized again. But your Old Adam keeps trying to push his head back above the water. You have to keep drowning him. You have to drown him every day. At one time you were in darkness, but now you live the light of Christ.

So how do you go about daily drowning the old Adam? How do you keep fighting off the reinforcements that Satan sends your way? You trust in the stronger man to disarm the evil that attacks you and protect you from the assaults of the evil one. You do this by hearing the Word of Christ where he says “I have done it all for you. I forgive you. Daily you cling to God’s Word. This Word convicts you of your sin, but it also points you again to the cross where that sin was paid for and to your baptism where that was covered and to the Lord’s Supper where forgiveness is placed into your mouth. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” This is the life of the Christian: a daily dying and rising again that is always pointing forward to the Last Day when we will rise from the dead once and for all.

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

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Sermon for Wednesday of Reminiscere, 2021

Text: Colossians 1:15-20; John 16:1-15

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

It is a rather natural thing to divide the Apostles’ Creed into three parts. We, of course, confess the Holy Trinity. That is, that God is three in one. That there are three distinct persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – but yet only one God. We also confess that the Father is 100% God, the Son is 100% God, and the Holy Spirit is 100% God. This is starting to sound a bit like the Athanasian Creed, isn’t it?

Another way to look at the three articles of the Creed, though, is to look at God’s activity in each article. The First Article deals primarily with creation, the second with redemption, and the third with sanctification. Let’s have that be what guides us this evening.

We confess that God created the heavens and the earth. When we do that, we are saying that what the Bible says about creation is true. That is, that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, simply by the power of his Word. We are confessing that when the Bible says “day” it means the same thing that the word “day” means today. It is a 24-hour period of time. God created the heavens and the earth over a period of six 24-hour days. To confess anything else is to do violence to the Word of God. God didn’t just create the heavens and the earth, though. He didn’t just make everything and then decide he was done with it. He still remains intimately involved with it. He provides for all of the needs that every creature on the face of the earth has. To this day, our loving Father provides all that we need for the support and needs of our body. God designed the universe in this day. He gives man dominion over all things and provides for all of the needs of man through this creation.

When God created the heavens and the earth, in particular after he made man in his own image, he declared that everything was very good. It was perfect. Nothing more was needed. All of creation had everything it needed and God would continue to provide for all needs in abundance.

It didn’t last though. Along with his creative work, God gave a specific instruction to man: don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat from that tree, you’ll die. Satan tried to convince man otherwise and succeeded. Satan said that God was a liar. Satan said that if they ate from that tree that the their eyes would be opened and they would be “like God.” Adam and Eve believed Satan and disbelieved God. The world has never been the same since. It wasn’t just Adam and Eve that were affected, though. All creation groans as a result of the sin of man. Death enters the world. The first blood is shed in order to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness – a nakedness that they didn’t even know before they fell into sin. The world is now under the power of the evil one. Yet, the promise of redemption comes right on the heels of God announcing the curse of the fall. God will “buy back” his creation from the evil one when the seed of the woman comes to crush the head of the serpent.

The second article of the creed speaks of this redemption. The Son of God himself is the one who comes to buy back God’s people from Satan. He doesn’t use the riches of this world, though. There aren’t enough riches in this world that could repay God for our sins. Only the perfect, spotless Lamb of God will be sufficient. Jesus pays the price for our redemption through the shedding of his holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death. The whole world is reconciled to God through Christ Jesus. He overcomes death and grave through his death and resurrection. Salvation for all people is bought and paid for at the cross of Calvary.

That was 2,000 years ago, though. How does what happened so long ago benefit us today? This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come to do a new thing. The Holy Spirit comes to point us back to Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to bring the benefits of the cross – forgiveness, life and salvation – to us here and now.

And how does the Holy Spirit do this? He works through means. The Holy Spirit doesn’t whisper in your ear or speak through the trees or the wind. He works through means. We call these the “means of grace” or “Word and Sacrament.” Is God the Holy Spirit able to work in other ways? Sure. But God graciously puts himself in places where you can be certain to find him. You know that he comes to you in his Word. You can be certain that he comes in Holy Baptism because the Word of God says so. You can be certain that your sins are forgiven when your pastor tells you so because the Word of God says so. You can be certain that Christ’s body and blood are given for you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins because the Word of God says so. The Spirit creates the Christian Church and works through the Church to forgive sins. He does that we, the redeemed may stand ready, sins forgiven, on the Last Day when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.

The Creed tells us about God. It tells us about how God has created us, redeemed us, and makes us holy. The creed tells of our salvation. In the beginning, God created a peace-filled world that was at peace with him. This peace is restored to us in Christ Jesus. This peace is sustained in us by the Holy Spirit as we are prepared to stand at peace in the presence of God for eternity.

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

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Reminiscere, 2021 Sermon

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

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

In the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God would lead us not into temptation. When we pray that, we know that God does not tempt us. Temptation comes from the devil. Temptation is intended to destroy the relationship that God has with us. That was its effect in the Garden of Eden. There the devil drove a wedge between God and man so that man trusted not in God and his Word, but in himself. Adam and Even believed the word of the serpent rather than the Word of God. The devil successfully twisted the Word of God so that they saw things his way, believing that they could be “like God.” When Satan tried the same thing with Jesus, it didn’t work of course. For Jesus clung to the Word of God in all of its truth and purity as he turned back the temptations of the evil one.

Temptation is one thing. Testing is another. Testing can and does come from God. God tests faith not to destroy it, but to strengthen it. Such is the goal of Jesus in his interaction with the Canaanite woman. Even with that in mind, though, it seems a bit strange to see Jesus treat this woman as he does. It’s one thing for us to read a Biblical account where Satan is clearly the bad guy, but it almost seems like Jesus is the bad guy here.

This woman comes to Jesus because her daughter is possessed by a demon. Her daughter is being attacked by one of the minions of the very one who tempted Jesus in the wilderness.

Notice how she addresses him. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” she says. She is not a Jew. She’s not even a Samaritan. At least the Samaritans had some knowledge of God and his promises. No, this woman has no blood-line claim to God’s chosen people at all, yet she addresses Jesus as the Messiah, the one sent from God who is a descendant of King David, the one foretold by the scriptures that she’s supposed to be utterly clueless about.

But this is Jesus, right? Jesus loves all people. That’s what he’s all about. Jesus’ love and concern for all people – regardless of their background and regardless of what sins they’ve committed – has been a hallmark of his ministry since the beginning. Surely Jesus will help this poor woman!

Imagine the disciples’ surprise when Jesus doesn’t respond at all! What is he, deaf? The woman keeps on crying out to Jesus and he seems to be flat out ignoring her. The disciples finally ask Jesus to do something. The disciples aren’t necessarily showing genuine concern for the woman and her daughter, but they at least think Jesus should do something so that the woman will quit bothering them.

So Jesus does finally respond, but he still says nothing to the woman. He simply tells the disciples that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. In other words, Jesus is saying that he didn’t come to help this woman because she wasn’t an Israelite. The disciples may not have had a problem with this, but to us this is just plain wrong. How could Jesus be so rude?

Well, it gets worse. The woman comes and kneels before him. Really it’s more than that. This woman was protesting herself, probably with her face to the ground in front of Jesus. She is desperately begging him to listen to her and come to her daughter’s aid. So Jesus finally does respond. But, again, not anywhere close to way in which we’d expect. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus shows no mercy. At least not yet. Instead, he calls her a dog. In today’s culture, Jesus would be labeled as a misogynist and racist for this in no time.

How will she respond? Well, how would you respond? Everybody has a limit as to how much they are willing to take. When you’ve been ignored and not received the answer that you want or are looking for in a reasonable amount of time, usually you give up. If the person to whom you’re making your request hurls insults at you, you’re even more likely to give up asking.

But not this woman. This woman takes the promises of God seriously. This woman knows that God is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. The Introit for today begins with the word “Reminiscere,” a Latin word that means “remember.” As in, “Remember, your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” This is basically how the Canaanite woman responds to Jesus. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She doesn’t respond in anger. She doesn’t even say that Jesus is wrong to call her a “dog.” She, in fact, acknowledges that she is a dog! She knows she’s not one of the children of Israel. She knows that she’s not worthy to sit at the table with the children. She’s perfectly satisfied to simply eat from the crumbs that fall to her. Jesus tests her faith and she clings still more tightly to the promises of the Word of God. Remember, she cried out to him as “Son of David.” If she knew that Jesus was the Son of David, she certainly knew that Jesus was the offspring of Abraham, the one through whom all nations (including her) would be blessed. She is absolutely relentless in her asking for help from Jesus, and indeed Jesus at last heals her daughter.

After Jesus gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel, he tells them to “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” This is what we have in this Canaanite woman in our text this morning. She will not be deterred even by Jesus himself. She may be a Gentile dog, but she is going to get her crumb no matter what it takes.

There are times when we pray it seems like God gives us an answer before we can even finish asking. Sometimes it’s even the exact answer that we’re looking for. Then again, things don’t always go so smoothly. It’s then that Satan comes to you and tries to convince you that God isn’t really who he says he is. “He doesn’t really answer your prayers,” Satan says. “You aren’t worthy to be answered by him. You think that because you’ve been baptized that you can just expect that you can call on your Father in heaven as dear children ask their father on earth for things? You’re nothing but a dog who’s unworthy to sit at the table.” The temptation is to walk away when God seems to not care.

Indeed this is the danger of trying to determine how God feels about us based upon our circumstances in this life. When things are going well, we assume God is our friend who loves us. When things go poorly, we assume that God must hate us. Instead you must look to the cross. You must look at the cross and see that indeed God is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. How do you know this? Because he who knew no sin became sin for you. While you were still a sinner, Jesus came to lay down his life for you. God’s love for you is not evident by what happens to you in your everyday life, but it is clear as day when you consider the death of Jesus, his son on the cross. It is clear as day when you remember that you have been baptized into his death and that if you have been united with him in his death you will also be united with him in his resurrection. Not only that, but Jesus, by whose death and resurrection you have been saved invites you to his table to eat of the crumbs that fall, that is, is body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Like the Canaanite woman, cling to the promises of God. His mercy and steadfast love have been from of old and will always be. When your faith is tested, drive yourself deeper into the Word of God that delivers these truths to you.

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

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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.

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