Sermon for Trinity 12, 2021

Text: Mark 7:31-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sermon for St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord, 2021

Text: Luke 1:39-55

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

We all have different definitions as to what make a person well-known or famous. Much of that has to do with our own interests and hobbies. I could probably name 10 professional cyclists and not a one of you would know who they are. To me, they’re famous. To you, they’re not. You could probably do the same thing to me with popular actors or musicians or famous Arkansas Razorbacks. To you, these people are famous. To me? Not so much.

But it is absolutely true that we all know who Mary is. She is the mother of Jesus. Even though it may seem odd to our ears to say it, she can properly be called the Mother of God because Jesus is both true God and true man. Even before she was carrying the Christ-child in her womb, though, she was significant. She had royal blood. She was in the Davidic line. To the Jews, this was a big deal.

Or at least it was a big deal. The fact is that a son of David hasn’t reigned on the throne of Israel in quite some time. King Herod isn’t part of David’s family. He’s not even a Jew. Caesar probably doesn’t know who David is. If he does, he doesn’t care.

It’s not much better when you look to the Jews who know Mary. Do they care that she’s part of the royal line? Probably not. After all, it’s been a thousand years or so since David reigned on the throne. He’s got lots of descendants at this point in time. To Israel, Mary is nobody of any significance. Mary knows that the Son of God is in her womb. The angel Gabriel told her. Elizabeth knows it. Look at what she says in verse 43 of our Gospel reading: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” John the Baptist, currently residing in the womb of Elizabeth even knows it. He leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of Mary. Sadly, though, that’s the end of the list. Three people out of all Israel know the significance of Mary and the baby that she carries. To everyone else, Mary is young, unwed pregnant girl. The child she carries is, as far as they know, a bastard. Mary carries Jesus, the creator of the universe in her womb. She should be esteemed and honored. But she is not. She is insignificant and unimportant to them.

It gets worse, though. This child that she bears, the Savior of the world, is rejected by his own people. So rejected is he that he is hung upon a cross as a common criminal. They crucified him because they said he incited riots. He didn’t. They crucified him for saying that you didn’t have to pay taxes to Caesar. He didn’t say that. They crucified him because he said he was the Son of God. Ultimately, Jesus, the one born of Mary, is crucified not for doing anything wrong, but for being who he it. He should have been celebrated, but he was rejected and executed instead.

Poor Mary is helpless to do anything. She knows better. So did John the Baptist. So did Elizabeth. They knew who Jesus was and why he came. But none of them matter to the Jews. They are poor and insignificant.

We know that there is good news in all of this, of course. Jesus is able to do his greatest work of all when he appears to be at his weakest. For it is in his death that he destroys death for all time. It is in his death that he, as Mary sings, “brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly.”

Who is it that was sitting on the throne? Satan himself. From the time of the fall into sin, Satan ruled this world. From the time that all were conceived, they were under his power. This is what resulted from Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Every human being born of man would be under the power of the devil. Satan would reign in their hearts and minds. Jesus, in his death and resurrection, tears Satan out of his throne and crushes his head.

Who is it that is lowly? Mary certainly was. She was bestowed the greatest honor ever given to a woman. As Elizabeth said to her, “Blessed are you among woman, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” We might recognize that as part of the opening portion of a Roman Catholic “Hail Mary,” which makes us slightly uncomfortable, but it’s right there in God’s Word. Mary is blessed. There could be no greater honor.

But we are also lowly. We are lowly because of our sin. All of the sins that Jesus was accused of, we are guilty of. We are the ones who rebel against authority. We are the ones who commit idolatry. We are the blasphemers and thieves. We are the ones who deserve to suffer and die for our sins. We are the lowly.

But Jesus exalts us. He exalts us by delivering his forgiveness to us that he won for us on the cross. We, who were lowly because of our sin are now exalted and presented to our Heavenly Father as righteous for the sake of Jesus.

For this, it is good that we sing Mary’s song, the Magnificat. I was once told by someone that the Magnificat was a women’s song because it was sung by Mary. The Magnificat is not just Mary’s song or the song of all women, though; it is the song of the Church. For the Church recognizes what God is doing for her in Christ Jesus. It is the song of her salvation. Let us, along with the Church of all ages, magnify the name of the Lord.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 10, 2021

Text: Luke 19:41-48

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

The Lord Jesus enters into Jerusalem triumphally, to load shouts of “Hosanna!” It’s a joyous occasion, indeed as he comes to bring redemption not just for the people of Jerusalem, but for all Israel and, in fact, all people for all time. The people are right to wave palm branches before him and lay them on the ground before him as he rides into town. They are right to The people are right to sing “Hosanna!” because Jesus will save them. He is the answer to that cry.

In the midst of this joyous entry, though, Jesus weeps. He weeps over Jerusalem. He weeps over them because he knows what’s going to happen to them. He knows that in 40 years or so the city will be completely destroyed. But it’s not really the destruction of Jerusalem that causes Jesus to weep. It’s the fact that the Jews have so fully put their trust in the fact that they are children of Abraham and have the temple in Jerusalem that houses the Ark of the Covenant and everything that goes along with that and they’re missing the entire point of every single one of those things. They feel somewhat comfortable with their position at the moment even though they find themselves under Roman rule, but they still long for more. They long for complete independence like they enjoyed during the days of King David and King Solomon. They see Jesus coming into town and assume that he’s the new king that will put them over the top and take them to just that position. Finally, the Son of David will reign in Jerusalem again.

They weren’t completely wrong. Jerusalem, the temple, and the ark do all point to the coming Messiah. All of them point to the Messiah who has come. All of them point to Jesus. Jesus comes to bring peace. But it’s not the peace that they’re looking for. They’re looking for peace on earth. They’re looking for prosperity for their nation. They believe that Jesus is the one who comes to bring peace for them, but they’re looking for the wrong kind of peace. It’s not the first time this has happened. As things started go badly for Israel in the Old Testament, they sought peace by means of political alliances. In spite of the prophets’ warnings, they made treaties with foreign nations that backfired in the end. King Hezekiah, King of Judah, made the rather foolish mistake of showing off his treasure to the Babylonians, whom he was friendly with at the time. That didn’t end well, to say the least. Now, in Jesus’ day, the people are at it again. Making agreements to live with the Romans. They think peace is found through political maneuverings. That’s why Jesus weeps.

Jesus also weeps because he hasn’t exactly kept the reason for his coming a secret. Jesus spoke of his coming death and resurrection. Jesus spoke of the salvation that would come to those who ate of his flesh and drank of his blood. The prophets, for that matter, didn’t keep it a secret either. Just look at the suffering servant in Isaiah’s prophecies. That points to Jesus. These things were not kept secret. Not at all. But the Jews don’t see it. They are lost. The evidence is all right before their eyes, but they don’t believe the evidence. So Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.

Judgment for Jerusalem is coming. Jesus speaks of it. Because the Jews didn’t know the time of their visitation – that is, they didn’t know that Jesus came to bring them peace between them and God – not one stone will be left upon another. The building that they’ve trusted as evidence of God’s favor toward them that has housed their empty, meaningless sacrifices that they keep presenting, will be torn down along with the rest of their city. They’ve taken the gift that God gave them and turned it into an idol, so God will now tear down their idol and leave them with nothing. Furthermore, Jesus’ weeping turns into anger as he goes into the temple and drives out the money changers and those who bought and sold. They were treating their worship life at the temple as some sort of business transaction rather than as true worship of one, true God who gives them all things.

What kind of peace are you looking for? Are you seeking the peace that comes through social justice? This has been a very popular idea over the past year and a half. If only we can somehow repay all those whose ancestors were oppressed in the past, then we can finally have peace. If only we can rid ourselves of all of the statues and other symbols that represent hate, then we can have peace.

Or maybe it’s the peace that comes through political alliances made with other nations. If we can get this or that peace treaty signed, then everything will be right with the world. If we can get all nations to stop building powerful weapons of war, then we’ll create this Utopian world were everyone always gets along and nobody ever argues about anything ever again.

We, of course, know that both of these strategies are hopeless. Should we work toward living peacefully toward our neighbors regardless of their cultural background or anything else that might make them different from us? Absolutely. God’s Law calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the summary of the second table of the Law, after all. The problem is that, in the end, no matter how hard you try, you will never eliminate every evil person in the world. The reason for this is that all people are evil.

The fundamental problem that exists with all of man’s attempts to make peace in this world is that man assumes that all men are, at their core, good. This is simply not true. Yes, man was created in the image of God, but that image was lost in the fall. Is that image being restored in us even now? Yes. In Holy Baptism we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us. The Holy Spirit continues to come to us in Word and Sacrament throughout our lives, constantly making us holy again and again. But the stain of sin remains. We are saints according to our baptism and according to God’s continued action in our lives through his Holy Spirit, but we are all also sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus comes to bring what you need. He comes to bring true peace. Do not miss the reason for Jesus’ visitation! Jesus does not visit that you might have social or political peace. He comes for a much better reason than that. He comes to bring true peace. He visits even today to give you the very peace that he won the cross: the peace between you and God. This is true peace. This is the peace of sins forgiven. This forgiveness comes to you in the ordinary forms of baptism, holy absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. In these gifts you can be certain that Jesus visits you because he himself instituted them for this purpose. In Jesus, you have true peace.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 9, 2021

Text: Luke 16:1-9

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

You can’t serve both God and money. That’s what Jesus said. I have often said that any gift from God can become an idol. That doesn’t make the gift bad. The gift is good. It’s how we use it that determines whether it is an idol or not. There is no doubt that money can easily become an idol. Money is, in and of itself, good. It allows us to love our neighbor. We love our nearest neighbors (our family) in that we use our hard-earned money to provide food for them to eat, a house for them to live in, and clothes for them to wear. We love our neighbors who are outside of our family by using the money that we’ve earned to benefit them. That could mean directly donating to the poor and hungry or it could mean that we engage in commerce. That is, we pay for goods and services that allow those whom we pay to feed themselves and their own families. In all of this, we recognize that God is the source of these good gifts. He is the one who gives us daily bread that we use to support our own bodies and lives as well as the needs of our neighbor.

But it is certainly true that money can easily turn into an idol. It becomes an idol when we look to it for all good. We trust in it to deliver us rather than trusting in the One who gives it to us to deliver us. We cling to it tightly, fearing that if we don’t hoard enough of it, we or those we love will suffer or even perish. This can lead us to be unmerciful toward others because we fear that we won’t have enough to go around. We want to make sure that we’re taken care of first, right? This is what the idolatry of money turns us into. It turns us into idolaters who care nothing about the needs of others.

When we look to the parable of the unjust steward, what does it mean that he was wasting the rich man’s possessions? When we think about wasting things, we usually think that he was in some way losing the rich man’s money. Either he was making unwise investments, or he wasn’t properly collecting payments for those indebted to his master or something like that. That would, indeed, be wasteful. It would definitely be a fireable offense. If your job is to make as much profit for your boss as possible and you instead lose money, you’ll find yourself out of a job rather quickly. This is likely how we look at the unjust steward initially. We figure he was bad at his job. Make no mistake about it, he was bad at his job. He just wasn’t bad at his job in the way that we think he was bad at his job.

Consider why it is that God gives us money. He gives us money in order to use it. That is, he gives it to us so that we can care for the needs of our body and care for the needs of those around us. In other words, God gives us money so that we will use it. This is precisely what the unjust steward was not doing. This becomes evident when we get to the second half of the parable.

The rich man fires his manager for not doing his job, so the manager decides that he needs to do something so that he will have some source of living once his last day on the job comes. So he slashes the debts of all of the rich man’s debtors. To the one who owes his master 100 measures of oil he tells to make it 50 instead. To the one who owes his master 100 measures of wheat he tells to make it 80 instead. He does this with all of his master’s debtors. We see this and we think this must just be an example of a bad employee continuing to do bad things. It sure looks like he’s robbing the rich man.

But the rich man isn’t one bit upset with this unjust steward. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. He commends him for doing what he did. Why does he commend him? Does he enjoy being taken advantage of? I mean, he’s going to end up with less than what he had. As far as business models go, this one is a poor one. Here’s the thing, though. We don’t know exactly what kind of mismanagement that the unjust steward was doing before, but we can assume that whatever form it took, it was the opposite of showing mercy. The way that he reacts to his firing is actually what the master wanted all along. He wanted the steward to be merciful. He wanted him to use the goods that the rich man had entrusted him with to be blessing to others. After being fired, the steward finally does his job the right way. For that, his master commends him. He commends him for showing mercy.

Dear friends in Christ, you have been entrusted with much. The abundance of God’s mercy is evident. You deserve nothing, yet he provides everything that you need to support your bodies and lives. As we confess in the Lord’s Prayer, God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayer, even to all evil people. God is merciful to you.

When God created man from the dust of the earth, he made him in his own image. He intended that man would reflect the love and mercy that God had for him to all of his creation. That is, he intended that you be merciful just as he is merciful. He intends that you use that which he has gifted you with in showing mercy to others. God gives you good things not just for the sake of you getting to have good things, but that you may be blessing to your neighbors, both near and far.

But, much like the manager in Jesus’ parable, we have a tenancy to mismanage that which God gives us. Money becomes our idol instead the gift that we are to use in showing mercy. It becomes the thing that we chase after and desire more than anything. It becomes the idol that dictates every single decision that we make in life to the point that we become its servant. Our thoughts are dominated by it as it causes us to worry about whether or not we have enough. We lack contentment in what God has blessed us with because we see what everyone else has and think we need to compete with them. Now that mercy that we were to show our neighbor becomes envy and jealousy instead. Money and possessions become our master. And what did Jesus say about that? He said you can’t have both. You can’t serve two masters. Well, if money is your master, it appears you have no more room left.

We show ourselves to be anything but merciful, but God’s mercy persists. It persists in that he sends Jesus to die in your place, paying the price for your mismanagement of his mercy. You are restored in Christ Jesus and given the promise of the resurrection on the Last Day in Christ’s resurrection. We cry out for mercy each week in the Divine Service in the Kyrie, and God grants that mercy to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Having received the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, you are now told by him to be merciful even as he is merciful. That is, you have this storehouse of treasure given you by your Father in heaven, now use it. Don’t hoard it all, instead, show mercy to your neighbor. When they sin against you, forgive them. The mercy that God has shown to you is unending. Now, you be merciful even as your Father in heaven is merciful.

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

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Sermon for St. James the Elder, 2021

Text: Mark 10:35-45

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

It was just three weeks ago, on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, that we read of Jesus calling three disciples: Peter, James, and John. Today is the day that the Church remembers James, the Son of Zebedee. James is included in Jesus’ “inner circle” of disciples, if you will. He, along with Peter and John, was privileged to be there when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Likewise, he was there at the Transfiguration and when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. While he holds this seemingly prominent position, we have almost none of his words recorded in the scriptures at all. The words that we DO have are included in our Gospel reading for today. In hindsight, they are probably words that James wishes that he didn’t even say.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” What kind of question is that? How presumptuous of them! They assume that Jesus is going to give them what they want. They demand it, in fact. Jesus, of course, knows all things. He knows what response he’s going to give to them before they even make before they even ask. But Jesus at least humors them here. “What is it that you want?” he says to them. Oh nothing much, they just want Jesus to give them the highest positions of honor. They want to sit at his right and at his left.

Now, as I said before, James and John (along with Peter) appear to already hold a somewhat honored position among Jesus’ disciples, but this is on another level. They want to sit at his right and at his left when he is “in his glory.” That is, they want to have these special positions when Jesus is in his glory.

Jesus immediately pours water all over their request. “You don’t know what you’re asking for,” he says. First of all, they don’t understand what it means for Jesus to be glorified. They still have a very earthly picture of Jesus. They see Jesus as the one who will reign on earth as he defeats all the enemies of his people. They want to hold prominent positions in his “government,” so to speak. Because they don’t truly understand what it means for Jesus to be glorified, they also don’t understand what it means when Jesus asks them if they’re willing to “drink the cup” that Jesus drinks or to be “baptized with the baptism with which Jesus is baptized.” James and John are putting on a brave face in saying that they are able to do just that. They don’t know the depth of suffering that Jesus is about to undergo.

They also don’t know the depth of suffering that they will undergo. Jesus tells them that they will, indeed, drink the cup that he drinks and be baptized with the baptism with which he will be baptized. That is, they will suffer just like he is about to suffer. James, in fact, becomes the first of the 12 apostles to die as a martyr. All of them, save for his brother John, will suffer that same fate.

Notice how the killing of James goes down: Herod Agrippa had James killed and saw that it made the Jews happy, so he decided to imprison Peter as well. Herod Agrippa is not concerned with whether or not that which James preaches is true. He wants to show and retain his power. Killing James seems to accomplish both of these tasks. As long as he can keep peace in his corner of the empire, he’ll retain his position. Keeping the Jews happy is a big part of this. Jesus said that this would happen. He said in our Gospel reading for today, but he also alluded to it in John 16 when he told all of the disciples that they would be put out of the synagogues and whoever kills them will think he’s offering service to God.

James was killed by Herod Agrippa and what did the rest of the apostles do? They kept making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. They were not one bit deterred by the killing of James. If anything, they were emboldened by it. It was a badge of honor to be baptized with the same baptism of Jesus and to drink from the same cup as Jesus.

We see a very different picture of Christianity today as we look at the myriad of false teachers around us. The most obvious of these preach a so-called prosperity Gospel that tries to make us think that because we are Christians, we should live comfortable lives where everything always goes right for us. Similar to this are those false teachers who tell us that if we aren’t living a life filled with wealth and health, then our faith must be weak.

This is not the Christianity of the Bible, though. In our baptism, we are baptized with the same baptism of Jesus Christ. In Holy Communion, we drink the same cup as Jesus drank. These sacraments give us tremendous blessings. In baptism we are made children of God who are credited with the righteousness that Jesus won on the cross for us. Baptism grants us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Same with the Lord’s Supper. There we eat the very body of Jesus and drink his blood. In these we are united with Christ. Being united with Christ is a good thing, of course, but it doesn’t mean that we will experience worldly success because of it.

Let us instead of the attitude of James and the rest of the apostles. It was not that they had a death wish. It was that they knew that while the world could indeed take everything away from them, they had an eternal possession that no one could ever strip away from them.

Dear friends in Christ, you have that same treasure that James had. The devil and the world can take many things away from you. Your health might fail. You may lose all that you have. These things may even be lost to you because you are a Christian. Don’t fear these things. Christ, the life of all the living has given his life for you and has defeated death and grave for you. Satan and the world may win the day now, but you have the priceless treasure of salvation laid up for you in Jesus.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 6, 2021

Text: Matthew 5:20-26

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

Martin Luther wrote to his good friend Nicholas von Amsdorf on the occasion of the birth of Luther’s daughter Magdalena asking that Amsdorf serve as the godfather “the said little heathen and to help her [enter] holy Christendom through the holy, precious sacrament of baptism.” Every time I’ve either read or mentioned that letter to people, they either react with surprise or with laughter. We don’t usually think of newborn babies as heathens. Babies are cute. Babies are precious. We love them. We should think these things about babies. They are a gift from God. What Luther is acknowledging in this letter to Amsdorf, though, is the truth that all are sinful and enemies of God from the time of their conception. This means that, as cute as babies are, they are sinners. They are unholy. They are heathens.

This is a big problem. Jesus says that your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. What does it mean to be righteous? Look no further than the 10 Commandments. There God shows us what righteousness looks like. One who is righteous has no other gods. One who is righteous uses God’s name properly. One who is righteous gladly hears and learns the Word of God. One who is righteous honors his parents and other authorities. One who is righteous takes care of the bodily needs of his neighbor. One who is righteous honors God’s gift of marriage and lives a chaste and decent life. One who is righteous respects his neighbor’s property and helps him protect it. One who is righteous defends and speaks well of his neighbor. One who is righteous is content with that which God has given him in life rather than chasing after things and people that were not intended for him. That’s what righteousness looks like. Yet no one is righteous. As St. Paul says in Romans 3:

as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Paul is quoting Psalms written by King David there. King David also wrote that he himself was sinful even from the time his mother conceived him. The scriptures reveal to us what righteousness is, but they also reveal to us that we are most certainly not righteous.

From hearts depraved, to evil prone,
Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone;
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
Seeks not nor finds its heav’nly goal.

In effect, this is precisely the doctrine that the Pharisees that Jesus disputes with are rejecting. They believe that you are a sinner because you sin. Therefore, if you can keep from sinning, you are no longer a sinner. In our Gospel reading, Jesus uses the Fifth Commandment as an example. To the Pharisees, “You shall not murder” means that you shouldn’t kill anyone. As long as you can avoid taking another person’s life, you’ve kept the Fifth Commandment. The same is true for the rest of the commandments as far as the Pharisees are concerned. According to the Pharisees, it’s possible to keep God’s Law perfectly. That is, one can claim to be righteous all on their own. They think that one can actually be righteous on their own. They are rejecting the doctrine of original sin.

This false teaching spread even into the early Church as Pelagius taught that man was not totally corrupted by original sin and still retained some ability, some spark that he could use in his conversion. While Pelagius was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Ephesus in 431, his teachings persist. This is where decision theology originates. We hear language that speaks of making decisions for Christ or asking Jesus into one’s heart all the time. These ways of thinking are denials of the reality of original sin. Remember, “none is righteous, no, not one.” We are unable, by our own reason and strength to believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, or come to him. We can’t do it. No human being has ever achieved righteousness on his own that warrants salvation nor will anyone this side of heaven do so in the future.

That is, except for the one Man, Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the One who comes and loves God and neighbor perfectly. He is the one, the only one, who can claim to have righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

But Christ, the second Adam, came
To bear our sin and woe and shame,
To be our life, our light, our way,
Our only hope, our only stay.

Not only did Christ come and keep the Law perfectly, he kept it perfectly for us. Where we failed, he succeeded. We were born sinners because we inherited Adam’s sin through our fathers, but now we are re-born in the waters of Holy Baptism. The old Adam in us is drowned daily and we are daily raised to new life in Christ.

We are not sinners because we have sinned. Rather, we sin because we are sinners. According to our fallen nature, we are curved inward on ourselves. We don’t seek God. We don’t desire to do good. But now, thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, and continues to make us holy with his gifts given to us in Christ’s Church. In baptism we put on Christ and he covers over our sin. In baptism, the righteousness won by Jesus in his death and resurrection is ours. As our opening hymn put it:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
Cleansed and redeemed, no debt to pay;
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 5, 2021

Text: Luke 5:1-11

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

The crowds press in on Jesus so much as he’s teaching them on the shore of lake of Gennesaret that he runs out of room. Jesus turns to Simon Peter for help. Simon Peter doesn’t know Jesus yet. Jesus hasn’t called him as a disciple yet. Simon Peter has what Jesus needs, though: a floating pulpit. Jesus sits down in the boat and Simon takes it a little ways away form the shore. This gives Jesus enough space to preach to the people. We spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about the miracles of Jesus. There’s even one included in this Gospel reading for this morning, in fact. But the bulk of Jesus ministry and the most important part of his ministry is the preaching of the Word of God. When Jesus finishes proclaiming the Word of God from the boat, he tells Simon Peter that he should put out the nets for a catch.

Here’s the thing, though. Simon was done fishing for the day. When Jesus asked to use his boat as a place from which to preach, Simon was in the process of putting everything away after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. Simon and his fellow fishermen were washing their nets and, in fact, weren’t even in their boats at the time. When Jesus asks Simon to put out the nets for a catch, it seems like a pointless endeavor. They’ve been trying all night to catch fish, what makes Jesus think that this time will be different if they put the nets down into the water. Besides that, they would have to wash the nets all over again after catching nothing again. No one would have blamed Simon Peter for saying no to Jesus. Peter is the fisherman. He knows what he’s doing. He had likely tried every trick he knew in the book to catch fish the through the night. He had probably gone to the places where he knew the fish usually were. Jesus was not a fisherman at all. Why would he knew any better?

Peter does what Jesus tells him to do, though. Why? Did Peter know that it was the Son of God, the Messiah, speaking to him? Not likely. It is true, however, that Jesus had just finished preaching to the people. It’s also true that Peter was there and heard what Jesus taught. At the very least, he’s not going to simply dismiss this seemingly hopeless suggestion of Jesus. The words that Simon uses in response to Jesus’ suggestion to try and fish once more are rather telling: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Simon Peter does not yet know who Jesus is, but he knows—because he just heard him—that Jesus preaches with authority. He doesn’t preach like the scribes of the day do with a sort of questioning uncertainty. Jesus preaches with clarity and boldness. This bold preaching of Jesus no doubt affected the way that Peter reacted to Jesus. He still doesn’t believe that anything different from what happened throughout their night of fishing will happen this time around, but he will at least humor Jesus and put the nets out for a catch.

Lo and behold, it works. It doesn’t just work, though, it works too well. So many fish are caught in Peter’s nets that they’re breaking. He has to call for help from the others to haul in all the fish they caught. Simon Peter may not have known exactly who Jesus was before, but now there is no doubt. He falls down at Jesus’ feet in repentance because he realizes that he is in the presence of God and he knows that sinful man cannot stand to be in the presence of the holy God. He says to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus immediately absolves him of his sin because he has a new task for Peter. Peter will now be one of his disciples as will James and John. They will be charged with putting out a different kind of net for a different kind of catch. They will be fishers of men.

The charge that was extended to Peter, James, and John, is still given to the Church today. The Church is to “fish” for men. How is this done? The net used to fish for men is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of salvation in Christ Jesus, the one who took on human flesh that he might be crucified for our sins and that he might rise after three days in the tomb that we, too, might be raised from the dead on the Last Day, is the net that is used to “catch” men.

This work can most certainly be frustrating. The Word of God is preached in the Church and confessed to those outside the Church and can seem to have little to no effect at times. We can identify with Peter who fished all night and caught nothing. We let down our nets with the Word and it seems that no men at all are caught by it. This can lead us to some rather dangerous conclusions.

We might conclude that the Word of God alone is not enough to catch men. We’ve tried it and it didn’t work. Perhaps we need to dress it up somehow. Maybe we need to use some sort of bait. This is where the Church gets herself in trouble because she stops trusting the power of the Word of God to catch men. She starts to believe that it depends on her winsomeness. She starts to believe that maybe if they simply had this or that program for this or that demographic, then men will be caught.

When we become frustrated that the Word of God seems not be catching men, we easily become discouraged, thinking that it’s simply not worth the effort. The Lord calls us to let down the nets of his Word for a catch, but we’ve toiled all night and caught nothing. We’ve tried everything (or so we think), and none of it has worked. Might as well wash out the nets and give up. That is, we might as well stop even trying to confess the faith with those whom we encounter.

We must repent of such lack of trust in the Word of God! We, like Peter, must recognize that as we come into the presence of Jesus in this place we are unworthy sinners with no right to be in his presence. We do that each week, do we not? The Divine Service begins with the Invocation where we call upon God’s presence among us. But we are sinners. We dare not approach our God in such a condition! Jesus, in his mercy, absolves our sins by the mouth of our pastor. But the gifts keep flowing. The Word of God shows the graciousness of God shown to us in Christ Jesus and we are fed with the crucified, resurrected, and ascended body of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. We come before God as sinners in this place, and leave with our sins covered in the blood of Jesus.

Having been forgiven of our sins, we confess to those whom we come into contact in our various vocations what it is that Jesus has done for us. We let down the nets for a catch, proclaiming the marvelous deeds done in Christ. And we trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty. We may not see the results that we desire immediately when we let down the net of God’s Word. We may be frustrated, like Elijah, that it seems that no one is listening. But we take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit is living, active, and effective wherever the Word of God and the Sacraments are given and received.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 4, 2021

Text: Genesis 50:15-21; Luke 6:36-42

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

We are reminded in Psalm 103 that God removes our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. When God forgives sins in Jesus Christ, those sins are gone. They have been paid for. As far as he’s concerned, they never happened. Each time we confess our sins to our pastor he says to us “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those words aren’t just information. They do something. They remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. We know that when our pastor absolves us of our sins it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.

Even though those sins that we’ve committed are gone, they are not so easily forgotten. It’s not that God remembers them and holds them over our head or something like that. It’s that we still remember them. Even years later, our past sins come back to haunt us. We remember the thing that we said or did to hurt a close friend or family member. We remember how much it hurt them and we think that certainly they must still harbor some ill will toward us. This is the type of stuff that can destroy relationships to the point that we lose all hope of reconciliation.

Joseph’s brothers can relate. They had done so many evil things to Joseph when they were younger that they struggled mightily to put them behind them. The history of Joseph’s family as a whole is somewhat of a mess.

Joseph’s father, Jacob, had two wives. Rachel was the wife he wanted. Leah was the wife he was tricked into marrying by his father-in-law. Both wives bore children for him, but because Rachel was the favored wife, Jacob also favored her sons over Leah’s. Joseph, the oldest of Rachel’s sons, was Jacob’s favorite. He didn’t keep it a secret, either. Joseph was given a special robe by his dad. Joseph’s 11 brothers – in particular the ten sons born to Leah – didn’t appreciate this much. While not the main point of this text at all, it is important to note that while God tolerated polygamy among his people, he didn’t approve of it. God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman. Any other combination is contrary to God’s design for marriage. Every time you encounter polygamy in the scriptures, trouble is not far behind for those who engage in it. Jacob’s relationships with his two wives and the effect that it has on the relationships with his sons illustrate this rather clearly. Jacob clearly shows favoritism to Joseph.

It gets worse, though. Joseph has dreams. He has dreams that indicate that one day all of his brothers and his mother and father will bow down to him. It wasn’t wrong that Joseph had such dreams, of course. It ends up coming true, after. But the fact that Joseph told all his brothers about the dream certainly did not improve his relationship with them in the least. In fact, they became so infuriated with Joseph that they planned to get rid of him. Some of them wanted to kill him. Some simply wanted to teach him a lesson. Ultimately, he ends up getting sold into slavery and they smear blood on his coat of colors telling their father Jacob that he was killed by wild beasts. What a lovely family, right?

Well, Joseph, through a long series of events that finds him in prison and out again before rising to the level of Pharaoh’s right-hand man, ends up in a position where he is able to help his family. The Lord uses Joseph’s seeming misfortune to the benefit of his people. There’s a famine in the land. It’s a widespread famine that affects Joseph’s family back home as well as the Egyptians. The difference is, though, that Egypt is ready. Joseph was given the ability by God to interpret a dream of Pharaoh that foretold the coming famine. Under Joseph’s direction, Egypt stored up so much food that they sold some to foreigners from around the region. Joseph’s family came to get food, too. Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize Joseph until he finally revealed himself to them.

You can imagine how Joseph’s brothers must’ve felt when Joseph first revealed to them that he was alive. While they hadn’t seen him die, they certainly didn’t think they’d ever see him again. In Genesis 45 it says that Joseph’s brothers were speechless. They were dismayed at his presence. They also knew that Joseph was a powerful man who could certainly exact any type of revenge that he wanted to on his brothers. But he didn’t. He forgave them. After all the rotten things that they had done to him, rather than seek revenge, he arranged for his whole family to move to Egypt so that they could be provided for there. Joseph showed his brothers mercy.

But what if that mercy that Joseph showed wasn’t real? What if he was only showing mercy to them for the sake of his father? It would make sense, after all, if Joseph was kind to his brothers only because he knew that providing for their needs also meant providing for Jacob’s needs.

This is what Joseph’s brothers think, too. So they make up a story. They tell Joseph that Jacob said that he should be nice to them. Joseph had forgiven them. When Joseph revealed himself to them and showed them mercy by inviting them to live in Egypt rather than seeking revenge, he was forgiving them. While the sins they committed were forgiven, they still remembered them. They still felt guilty. They needed to hear once again that their sins were forgiven.

Joseph doesn’t disappoint them. He reminds them again that while they intended to harm him, God used the evil things that happened to them for good. Through Joseph’s actions the people of God are preserved and the Messianic line that leads to Jesus is preserved. Joseph forgives his brothers once again, reminding them of God’s mercy.

The Divine Service is repetitive. It is virtually the same thing, week in and week out. Some people might say that’s boring. The absolution was spoken this morning again as I, in the stead of Christ, forgave your sins. In a few moments we’ll eat and drink the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins again. We do these things every week. Every week I preach to you and tell you that you have sinned before telling you that Jesus has redeemed you through his death and resurrection. And guess what? We’re going to do it all again next week. I actually try to be as predictable as possible.

But why? Why don’t we do something more interesting and more fun rather than the same old thing every week? The reason is that God is merciful. God knows that while he forgives your sins in Jesus and casts them as far away from you as the east is from the west, that your memories of sins committed remains. Jesus forgives you and he remembers your sins no more, but you still know and remember what you’ve done. The guilt comes back to haunt you. So Jesus comes to you again to tell you that your sins really are forgiven.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” Jesus says. We know the mercy that God has for us. We deserve nothing but everlasting wrath and punishment from God. But that’s not what we get. Instead, God the Father poured out his wrath on his only-begotten Son. Jesus took our sins on himself and suffered and died in our place. God was not merciful to us at all, but God showed his mercy to us in that while we were still sinners, he sent Jesus to die for us. Joseph’s brothers knew that they deserved all kinds of evil things at the hand of Joseph. He could have thrown them in prison. He could have had them executed if he wanted to. For your sins, you deserve the same. You deserve everlasting condemnation and death. But you have the sure and certain hope of salvation because God has had mercy on you. He has sent his only Son Jesus to die for you and for his sake forgives you all your sins. You know that because of the mercy of God that Just as Christ is risen from the dead, you too will be raised on the Last Day. God is and always will be merciful to you. Now, in response to what he has done for you in Christ Jesus, be merciful to one another.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 3, 2021

Text: Luke 15:1-10

The Pharisees and scribes don’t like that Jesus received tax collectors and sinners and ate with them. These are just not the type of people you want to be around. Tax collectors, after all, were not just some type of government employee just doing their job. They were notorious for being liars and thieves. They took more than they were instructed to take by the government and kept for themselves. The Pharisees and scribes were probably numbered with those who had been robbed by tax collectors, so there is no love lost there.

And what about the “sinners?” That seems to cover a lot of ground doesn’t it? Aren’t we all “sinners?” The title here is used to point out the really bad sinners, though. We’re talking about hardened criminals here. These sinners are the ones who ignored all public standards of morality and decency. These are the murderers and other hardened criminals. These are the ones who deal dishonestly in whatever profession they’ve undertaken. These are the ones who engage in professions that are evil. These are the prostitutes who enticed men to forsake their marriage vows and destroying families.

In the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes, the world would be a better place if these people didn’t even exist. Maybe they’re right about that. Wouldn’t the world be a better place without such immorality? So when they see Jesus not just being kind to these types, but welcoming them and eating with them, they are scandalized. How can any decent human being, much less Jesus, associate himself with such filth.

That is precisely what Jesus does, though. He accepts the tax collectors and sinners for who they are. He doesn’t do this based on the potential for what they might become. It’s not that Jesus looks deep down inside of them and finds some spark of good that makes them worthy of his attention and care. Jesus doesn’t make some sort of agreement with them that if they decide that they’ll make all the right changes in their lives he’ll accept them. No, Jesus takes them as they are. He does this only because of his mercy.

The mercy of God doesn’t make sense. It will never make sense to us. I mean, a lot of things about God do make sense. The omnipotence of God makes sense. He created all things. He performs miracles that defy the laws of physics. He performs other miracles where he heals the sick and even raises the dead. These types of things make sense, though, because, after all, he’s God. We have no problem with God’s omniscience, that is, that he knows all things, because again, he’s God. But the mercy of God is another story. For this perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God who created all things and sustains all things and is holy, is also the friend of sinners.

That doesn’t make sense. More than that, for the scribes and the Pharisees, it’s not right. Jesus is prominent figure. If he’s going to associate with such filth, then they don’t want to associate with him. Because Jesus is the friend of sinners, they decide that he must be a sinner, too. They have no proof of this, of course, because there is no proof, but it’s guilt by association at this point. Jesus didn’t say that sin was OK. In fact, he said just the opposite. When Jesus dealt with sinners he told them to “go and sin no more.”

Jesus is most definitely the friend of sinners, though. He receives sinners into his presence and eats with them because these are the sinners whom he came to save. Jesus came to redeem sinners. He came to bear the sins of all people all the way to the cross where he paid the price for them. Because he suffered the wrath of God on behalf of all sinners, he is indeed the friend of sinners.

All human understand fights against the idea of divine mercy. This is illustrated well in the two parables that Jesus tells. First, in the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to retrieve the one lost sheep. This is a foolish endeavor in the eyes of the world. Why risk losing 99 sheep just go get one? Write it off as collateral damage and be done with it! This is not the way the Lord operates, though. The Lord Jesus comes to seek and to save the lost. He comes to show mercy. In this world, we figure we can simply re-train the sheep so that he won’t run off anymore. Or maybe we simply think that the sheep will make it back on his own. Perhaps we could give him a map to find the rest of the herd. It won’t work, though. The sheep needs a shepherd. The sheep can’t save himself.

So it is with the coin that the woman lost two. It’s even more obvious that a lost coin can’t find itself. It’s an inanimate object. It can do nothing to find itself. It has to be searched for diligently or it will remain lost.

Jesus comes to find that which is lost. Or, to put it more accurately, Jesus comes to save those who are lost. And who are those that are lost? In the parables that Jesus tells, the ones that are lost are the tax collectors and sinners. They are the ones that come to Jesus because they know that Jesus has what they need. He is their friend. He is the one who comes and finds them. He is the one who declares them righteous.

Jesus is the friend of sinners, but that doesn’t mean he approves of their sin. The difference between the tax collectors and sinners and the scribes and the Pharisees is not that one group is sinful and the other is not. The difference is that one group recognizes who they are and the other vehemently denies it. The tax collectors and sinners identify with the lost sheep and the lost coin. The Pharisees and scribes do not. They are the 99 righteous people who think they need no forgiveness.

As we examine ourselves, may we find ourselves among the tax collectors and sinners. By that I don’t mean that we should repeat their sins. I mean that we should come to our Lord Jesus in repentance. For we need what Jesus comes to give. We need the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross. Repentance looks weak in the eyes of the world. It looks weak because it takes us outside of ourselves. Just as the lost sheep and the lost coin couldn’t find themselves, we can’t find ourselves, either. That “finding,” that saving must come from outside of us. For there is no good quality within us that can grant us salvation. It is only in Christ that we can be found and declared righteous. It is only in Christ that we are found and declared righteous. Our Lord is indeed merciful to us. He is the friend of sinners. He is our friend.

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

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Sermon for Trinity 2, 2021

Text: Luke 14:15-24

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

God’s eternal kingdom is often compared to a feast or a banquet in the scriptures. Isaiah writes in chapter 25 that “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” Throughout the season of Easter, we sang the hymn of praise, “This is the Feast.” Feasting in the Bible is tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus. For in his death, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. His resurrection foreshadows the resurrection of all God’s people on the Last Day. In the life of the world to come, in the resurrection, our feasting, that is, our celebration of the victory of Christ, will have no end. We will indeed be blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of heaven.

What is this bread, though? Is it like the bread that we make in our kitchens? Is it like the bread that we buy at the store that’s pre-sliced so that we can make our sandwiches? Is it like the bread that we get at the restaurant that goes with the rest of our meal? No, the bread that will be eaten in kingdom of heaven is the body of Jesus. Jesus says in John 6, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” That’s right, Jesus says that if anyone eats of the living bread that comes down from heaven, that is, his body, they will live forever. Indeed, it’s really an understatement to say that everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God will be blessed.

But must we wait until the resurrection to eat of this bread? No! That’s perhaps the best news of all! You are part of God’s kingdom now. In your baptism you were ushered out of the kingdom of the devil and into God’s kingdom. Now, the Lord feeds you with his gifts to sustain your faith until the end. He gives you the food of his Word that enters into your ears and strengthens your faith. The same with the absolution that enters your ears and brings the forgiveness of sins. Most applicable here today, though, is the Sacrament of the Altar, where your Lord Jesus gives you his very body to eat and his very blood to drink. It is the same body that was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, was buried, and rose again. It is the same blood that flowed from the wounds in his head, hands, feet, and side. What an amazing promise that these things hold. Jesus words put it best, of course: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54).

With such promises attached to these gifts that God gives, it’d be rather foolish to pass up an invitation to receive them, wouldn’t it? But, alas, that’s exactly what happens in the parable that Jesus tells. There is no work to be done by anyone who is invited to this banquet. All is prepared and ready. All that is left is to come and receive the gifts that are there. Apparently, that was too much to ask, though, of the guests who were invited. Just look at the lame excuses that are given by those whom the host of the banquet invited.

The first fellow says that he can’t come to the banquet because he needs to go check out a field that he just bought. Who buys a field without checking it out first? I know that we don’t have any farmers in our congregation, but everybody knows that you don’t buy a property that you’re about to depend upon to provide a livelihood for you and your family without researching it first. He would have known about the soil quality of a field before he even entered into negotiations to purchase it. You can say the same thing about the second man, though. Who doesn’t know what they’re buying when they buy and animal?

Both of these excuses are bad. That’s clear. These two have misplaced their priorities. They are serving a different god than the true God. The highest form of worship is to be at the place where God is offering his gifts. These men have chosen instead to serve the god of property and riches. Clearly they are more important to them the gifts God offers.

There is plenty of things in this life that have a way of keeping us away from the Lord’s gifts. The truth is, though, that none of them amount to much of anything. Ask yourself the next time you’re considering skipping an opportunity to receive God’s gifts, that is, to gladly hear and learn the Word of God or to eat and to drink the body and blood of Jesus, “Is whatever I’m planning on doing more important than God and his Word? Do I need to do whatever this thing is more than I need the forgiveness of sins?” If your answer is yes, you’re wrong. There’s no getting around it. We can see clearly that the two men you are apparently buying things sight unseen in Jesus’ parable are giving lame excuses, but our excuses are lame, too. Is our leisure really more important than receiving the gifts of God? Can we not find time when we’re on vacation or just taking a quick weekend trip to darken the doors of the church? Are we so inconvenienced by an early church time that we can’t get ourselves out of bed to receive God’s forgiveness? Are we really so busy that we can’t set aside 2 hours a week (out of 168) to hear the Word of God? It’s nonsense. It truly is. There’s really no getting around it.

What about the man who says he just got married and he can’t come? We tend to have a softer spot for our family. This is good and right. Family is a gift from God. When we speak of loving our neighbor, that always starts with family. Our family consists of our nearest neighbors. But even the good gift of family can become an idol. Notice how the man doesn’t even expound upon why his recent marriage would prevent him from coming. At least the first two excuses had more of an explanation. This one, though, is rather presumptuous. It’s almost like he expects that everyone would know why he couldn’t come to the banquet since he just got married. I have often heard the excuse of family used by one who has told me why they won’t be at church on a given day. What I’ve never quite understood is why you can’t just bring your family to church. Don’t you want them to receive the forgiveness of sins with you? Can you not change your family’s holiday tradition to include the receiving of God’s gifts? And if they don’t want to come, leave them at home and come anyway. Nothing, not even family, should prevent you from being here. In the end, we are left without excuse.

Thanks be to God that his gracious invitation continues to go out. The Lord’s servants continue to proclaim his Word. This Word convicts us of our sin, but, more importantly, comforts our troubled consciences. For we know that we have served the idols of this world and chosen to prioritize over God and his Word. But we also hear the voice of Jesus saying, “I died for that sin as well. You are forgiven.”

Our Lord bends over backwards to see to it that you have the opportunity to get the gifts of the cross of Christ Jesus. When the original invited guests all turn down the invitation to the banquet, the host tells his servants to go to great lengths to see to it that the banquet hall is filled. Do not decline your Lord’s invitation. Rather see that what he gives you here is something that cannot be found anywhere else. Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God. May we find ourselves among those at the banquet.

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

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