Thankfulness Leads to Faithfulness

Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30 for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 21 & 24, 2018

  1. I’ve got a problem with the word “stewardship.” We have a “stewardship” section of hymns in the hymnal, we usually have some kind of “stewardship Sunday” in the fall, we have a three-week “stewardship” sermon series–and what do we connect that word “stewardship” with? Church fundraising. That’s only one piece of the stewardship pie. Stewardship does not mean fundraising or budgeting. Stewardship means management—management of everything. From a Christian perspective, it means management of all the gifts that God has given us for all the responsibilities and needs God has set before us. That is stewardship.
  2. And that is Jesus’ point in his parable of the talents. Our English word “talent” meaning some gift or ability is really derived from this parable. Originally a talent was a unit of money, equivalent to seventy pounds of silver. It’s impossible to do value comparisons with ancient moneys, but with the price of silver today, a talent would be worth about $15,000.00. In 2011 when silver was at an all-time high, it would have been around $40,000.00. Not an enormous amount of money, but not something to throw away, either. You could do a lot with $15,000 or $40,000, couldn’t you?
  3. So the master is about to leave on a journey and he gives his wealth to his servants. Five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to a third. Not everyone has the same gifts. The Corinthians had some problems in the way they looked at their gifts. Some gifts they prized, and some gifts they considered not that valuable. But St. Paul wrote, “There are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12;4). Because people are different, they will have different gifts, different kinds of gifts, differing amounts of gifts. But all our gifts and abilities come from God. To some people he gives many gifts. To some he gives less. To some he may give spectacular gifts. So others he may give ordinary gifts. But everyone has received some gift from God. Every single human being has received the most basic of all gifts—the gift of life. Every single Christian has received the most precious of all gifts—the gift of faith: the Word of God revealed to you and the gifts of forgiveness and a new life connected to God through Jesus. Look at what you have! We all have received something from our God—all are very precious gifts.
  4. The master “entrusted his possessions to them… each according to his ability.” That word entrust means responsibility, doesn’t it? He gave each servant the money according to his ability. He wasn’t asking them to do anything they weren’t able to do. “Here, manage this while I’m away!” But we see it didn’t work that way for everyone. The one who received five talents put the money to work—probably with buying, selling or lending, and doubled what he had. The one who received two talents did the same. But the one who received one talent “went away, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.” The master saw that each had some ability—so he gave money to each. Did the last servant think, “This isn’t as much as the others” and admitted failure right away?
  5. You probably have guessed. I’m a history buff—not concentrated in one area—I just try to be aware of history—world history, national history, church history, to help me understand what’s going on the We look at history—the history of the church—and we see some people who received great gifts. St. Paul wrote his letters with such doctrinal clarity about the person and natures of Jesus and about how Christians should live in love in their families and in their churches. He traveled all over Turkey and Greece and to Rome, spreading the gospel and establishing the church in a way that it would spread—even spread to you and me. Do you have talents like that? Do I? Could you dream of doing the things he did? I mentioned St. Augustine a few weeks ago. He wrote volumes. He was the one who helped Christians pick up the pieces after the fall of the Roman Empire, and taught them, “We are citizens of The City of God, a greater citizenship than that of fallen Rome. He wrote things that shaped the thought and language of Martin Luther about 1100 years later—which then has influenced us. A lot of Luther’s Small Catechism is borrowed from Augustine. Do you have the gifts to do those things or to have that kind of influence? Do I? There are many more people I could talk about: Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, Michelangelo, missionaries, writers, teachers, musicians, artists who used their gifts to the glory of God. Do we have the same talents they did? Probably not. Those people had some very special, very rare gifts. They used their gifts in exceedingly fruitful ways! Does that mean that we have nothing? Does it mean that God expects nothing of us? Absolutely not. Just as the master in the parable “entrusted his possessions to them… each according to his ability,” he has entrusted much to us, each according to our ability.
  6. In the parable, the first servant doubled the money and presented it to his master. Five talents turned into ten. And when the master returned and saw what the servant had done, he said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ The second servant did the same. Two talents turned into four, and the master said the same thing. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” That tells us something about the master’s expectations, doesn’t it. He expects and values He didn’t care that the second servant didn’t make his two into ten. He praised him for his faithfulness. That is true stewardship—faithfulness. Faithfulness in the way we manage our gifts—for our own needs, for the needs of others, for God’s glory. All of our gifts—our time as well as our money. Our abilities as well as the physical blessings we have.
  7. Why do your best? Why be a faithful steward or manager of your gifts? Why not sit back and be a sponge—just absorbing the good things for yourself? Well, this is a question of purpose, isn’t it? Why did God make us? Why did God save us? So we could be couch potatoes? After he created Adam and Eve he told them, “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air” (Genesis 1:28). He made them to take care of his world. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We were created to serve him. We were redeemed and called to serve him. That is what pleases God, and what he commends. With faithful work, God also gives satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:13, 5:18). Why be a faithful steward? Because it is God’s work you are doing—really in everything you do. When you provide for your family (1 Timothy 5:8), when you pay your taxes (Romans 13:7), when you help someone in need (Matthew 25:35), when you support the work of your congregation (1 Timothy 5:17-19) you are doing the work God has given you. That’s why you do your best—in everything.
  8. Then there was that last servant. An unfaithful servant. A fearful servant. He brings the one talent he was given to the master and says, “‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter seed. 25 Since I was afraid, I went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” He saw his master’s faithfulness and shrewdness. “Reaping where you did not plant…” means the master only bought fields that had already been planted. He was afraid. “I can’t make good deals like my master. I can’t make good deals like my coworker who got the five talents. I give up.” So he buried his money and did nothing with it. That wasn’t an option. The master in the parable says, “‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I reap where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter seed? 27 Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers so that when I came I would get my money back with interest.’’ Wicked and lazy. Evil. Wicked is not just bad, but an evil that destroys and robs. Putting the money in the bank would have given the master something, but instead, his money sat there—the time and potential earning power of the money were wasted, and all the servant can do is hand back this bag of money covered in the dirt he buried it in.
  9. What do you have? What are you doing with it? As a human being, what do you have? Life. Time. Family. The gifts God gives you to sustain body and life. As a Christian, what do you have? Jesus, Word, Sacrament, Faith, Power and Hope. What are you going to do with these gifts God has given? Are they that precious? What is more precious than life? What is more precious than faith? We owe God our thanks. Thankfulness leads to faithfulness. Faithfulness in all areas of life. Faithfulness in using your time, money and other abilities for the good of family, neighbor, and church. So look at the many gifts you have been given. Think about God’s grace in your lives—the many blessings—and about your Master’s faithfulness—even laying down his life for you. Put his gifts to work. Don’t bury them. Look at the needs around you. This is the Lord’s work you are doing. Do it faithfully—to his glory.

Amen.

 

Matthew 25:14-30

You see, the kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a journey. He called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to still another one talent, each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The servant who had received the five talents immediately put them to work and gained five more talents. 17 In the same way, the servant who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received one talent went away, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 The servant who received the five talents came and brought five more talents. He said, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ 21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 “The servant who received the two talents came and said, ‘Master, you entrusted me with two talents. See, I have gained two more talents.’ 23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 “Then the servant who received one talent came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter seed. 25 Since I was afraid, I went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 “His master answered him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I reap where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter seed? 27 Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers so that when I came I would get my money back with interest. 28 Take the talent away from him and give it to the servant who has the ten talents. 29 Because everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 Throw that worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  (EHV)

 

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One Time Jesus Didn’t Heal

The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead. There’s even an account of Jesus healing in passing when somebody touched him (Luke 8:43-44).

The purpose of Jesus’ miracles was always to show people that their faith was in the right place, and that Jesus had every right to say the things he was saying. Miracles do not create faith. The Word does. Miracles backed up the Word.

When he did heal, he also commended the people for their faith. Luke records four times when Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” And to the Capernaum Centurion he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.” (Luke 7:9).

There was one time Jesus did not heal. The person who would have benefitted from healing confessed his sin and expressed his faith most beautifully, and Jesus also promised him a reward, but he didn’t heal.

39 One of the criminals hanging there was blaspheming him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same condemnation? 41 We are punished justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.”

43 Jesus said to him, “Amen I tell you: Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

It’s not hard to imagine Jesus saying, “Hold on to your cross while I make the nails disappear and heal the wounds in your hands and feet. Go in peace! Your faith has saved you!” He could have done that. He can still the storms, multiply loaves and fish, heal the sick. He certainly could have dissolved nails and healed wounds. But he didn’t.

He did something better. He gave that repentant thief a promise. “Amen I tell you: Today you will be with me in paradise.” No healing. No “Go in peace! Your faith has saved you.” He gave a promise–a promise of something better than freedom and healing. Paradise. It was a promise he would see Jesus in his heavenly kingdom where “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain, because the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)

Why do we suffer? –even when we believe and pray for healing? –even when we think we could serve God better if we didn’t have the hardship of some disease? –even when the pain is devastating and heartbreaking? It’s because God has a better plan for us. He knows what is better. We think we know what would be better–what we’d wish or what we’d like–but God knows what is better. He knows how it will all turn out. St. Paul had that problem. He had what he called “a thorn in the flesh” –some big pain, something he through he could do much better without. But God’s answer was, “I have a better plan. I have some things for you to learn from this. I want my power to be shown despite your weakness. This will be better. Just wait and you will see.”

Therefore, to keep me from becoming arrogant due to the extraordinary nature of these revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, so that I would not become arrogant. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that he would take it away from me. And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may shelter me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

It’s often been said, “God has three possible answers to prayers. “Yes,” “Not yet,” and “I’ve got a better plan.” “Not yet” can be agonzing, especially when we have to suffer. “I’ve got a better plan” can be frustrating because God’s plans can be completely different from anything we would think of (Isaiah 55:8-9). But we have his assurance that he does work all things for our good (Romans 8:28). That means our eternal good–sometimes a good that is unseen to us–maybe even until we are in heaven. But we have God’s assurance that he is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31). Like that repentant thief, we have a promise. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3)

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God’s Three Sabbaths for the Good of His People

Sermon on Mark 2:23–3:6 for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, May 31/June 3, 2018

I. The Old Testament Sabbath.

  1. We learned the Third Commandment the way it’s printed here in the bulletin: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” In the Old Testament, the Commandment was connected very much to the God even had arranged the Hebrew language so the word for the number seven, the word for Saturday, and the word for rest were all the same word: shabat. Sabbath. So, a Hebrew speaking person could not even count to ten without remembering the Sabbath day. God gave that day to his people for their benefit as a day of rest. As the commandments are given in Deuteronomy 5, the commandment says continues: “Six days you are to serve and perform all of your regular work, 14but the seventh day is a sabbath rest to the Lord your God. You are not to do any regular work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock or the alien who resides inside your gates, in order that your male servant and your female servant may rest like you. 15Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the day of rest.” Did you see God’s grace and love there? “Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt… where you had no rest. You are my free people now. Rest!” God was so intent on having his people enjoy rest that he strictly enforced this commandment. In Numbers 15, we read about a man who went out and gathered firewood on a Sabbath day. Because God was intent on having his people rest, and because it was the early days of God working with his covenant people, and because the man was going against the command of God, the man was put to death. There are some people among us who just don’t take vacations. When you don’t take any break, you may be working more, but you won’t be working better. Taking a break is like a recharge of the mental and physical batteries. God knew that. That’s how he made us. That’s why he told his people to remember the Sabbath Day and rest.
  2. The Sabbath was part of Israel’s ceremonial law—laws about worship, ceremony, sacrifice, ritual, festivals and days—but for them it wasn’t pigeon-holed as a separate category of law. For them, the law was their life. But all of those ceremonial laws about worship, sacrifice, festivals and days had another purpose. The Passover, the sacrifices, and the Sabbath were all prophetic pictures about to Jesus and what he would be like and what he would do. That’s why Paul called them “…a shadow of things that were coming, but the body [or the reality] belongs to Christ.”

II. The Sabbath Fulfilled by Jesus,

  1. You remember something that Jesus himself said about rest, don’t you? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV). Jesus himself is the rest. The rest comes to us when we read and listen to his Word. There is a very old prayer written by St. Augustine—a Christian bishop who lived around the year (A.D.) 400 in north Africa—and he prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”[1] You look at the world and you see restless people, troubled people, disturbed people, people never satisfied and always seeking something. People who are hurtful to others because they are really hurting inside. Does any of that sound familiar—or feel familiar? Do you see the truth of it when you look at the world—or when you look inward? That’s the restlessness. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” What comfort Jesus gives in those words we heard before! “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Remember the time when Jesus was teaching in a crowded house and some friends brought a paralyzed man and lowered him down through the ceiling so he could see Jesus? Do you remember Jesus’ first words to him? He did not say, “Get up and go, you are healed.” He saw a restless heart, so his first words were, “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:9). What did that paralyzed man have to do all day but stare at the ceiling and think, “Why? Why am I suffering? Did I do something wrong?” Jesus gave him rest for his heart and soul, and then told him, “Rise and walk!” He took care of the bigger problem first. Remember how Jesus taught us to pray—and what comfort it gives—when we pray “Forgive us our trespasses” (Matthew 6:12, Luke 11:4) and can have the confidence that our sins are forgiven. Remember one of Jesus’ last words on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This means that the burden is off of you. You don’t have to work your way up to God, but he has reached down to you. You are free and forgiven.
  2. In believing this, we have some challenges. As lazy and selfish as our broken human nature (flesh) can be, when it comes to sin and guilt, free forgiveness looks too easy. We think we have to do something. Balance out the bad with good. Hope God gives us credit for our effort or our sincerity. But looking inward to solve the problems of sin and guilt only make us more restless. “It is finished.” Looking inward to solve problems of sin and guilt is even worse than that—if we think we can fix it all ourselves, we are not turning to Jesus who has already fixed it all. It’s really idolatry. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” “You will find rest for your souls.” With us, everything is uncertain, and if we try to be our own saviors, we will always be left with that restless, uncertain feeling, “Did I do enough? Did I pay for it all?” With Jesus, we have no doubt. “It is finished.” Trust him. Find your rest in him. Find your peace in him. This is why the New Testament view of the Third Commandment has the focus not on a day, but on an activity, the preaching and hearing of God’s Word. When we hear God’s Word, we hear the only thing that can give rest to our souls—the Word of Jesus’ forgiveness, pardon, peace, fully accomplished by him.

III. The Heavenly Sabbath.

  1. Several times I’ve said, sometimes in jest, that my ministry specialty is giving people the last rites. (Lutherans usually prefer to call it “Commendation of the Dying.) I’ve said that because it seems to happen often—I’m making a hospital visit or a shut-in visit, and it is pretty clear that the person has a short time to live. I remember once, visiting a patient, and the doctor came in the room with the gloomiest look on his face to tell the patient’s family that there was nothing more that could be done—and there were perhaps only hours left. Then, the doctor left and it was my turn… to give good news and a message of hope to the patient and the patient’s family. Because of the gospel of Jesus, I have hope to give—even when everything else his hopeless. This is what “Commendation of the Dying” usually is. I begin with the Lord’s Prayer, Twenty-Third Psalm, John 10 (“My sheep hear my voice… no one can pluck them out of my hand.”) John 14 (“Do not let your hearts be troubled, I go to prepare a place for you.”) another prayer, and the Song of Simeon (“Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.”). With the Word and promise of Jesus, we’re closing one door and opening another.  The letter to the Hebrews says, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God rested from his work. 11 Therefore, let us make every effort to enter that rest.

Conclusion: Look at what we have! We have the Gospel of Jesus, the rest and refreshment it gives us from the burden of sin and guilt, the rest and refreshment it gives us from living with the brokenness of this world, and it gives us hope when all other hope is gone. What a treasure we have—in our hands when we hold a Bible, in our ears when we come to worship in God’s house. The Word is our treasure. Regard it as holy. Gladly hear and learn it.

Amem.

 

Mark 2:23–3:6

Once on a Sabbath day, Jesus was passing through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick heads of grain as they walked along. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath day?” 25He replied to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry (he and his companions)? 26He entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest and ate the Bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for anyone to eat, except for the priests. He also gave some to his companions.” 27Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is the Lord even of the Sabbath.” 3 Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 They were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath day, so that they could accuse him. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step forward!” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 Then he looked around at them with anger, deeply grieved at the hardness of their hearts. He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees left and immediately began to conspire against Jesus with the Herodians, plotting how they might kill him. (EHV)

 

[1]https://acollectionofprayers.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/prayer-and-motto-of-st-augustine/

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Jesus says, “Remain in My Love. Obey My Commands. Go and Bear Fruit.”

Sermon on John 15:9–17 for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Confirmation), May 3 & 6, 2018

“Remain in My Love.”

  1. Perhaps it has always been this way—but we see it more and more in our time. “Love” has a problem with its definition. You watch your favorite TV show and a commercial for cereal comes on. “I love Frosted Flakes” (https://youtu.be/up8qxnjsP8U) or “Everybody loves Fruity Pebbles!” (https://youtu.be/rUkrpm8FOUA?t=1m36s) Another commercial comes on. People are sitting in a restaurant, eating hamburgers and drinking milkshakes. The product of the week is highlighted, and then the short jingle sings, “Da-da-da-da-da! I’m lovin it.” (https://youtu.be/eBlD2N_AwgI). Is that really love? You’re talking about something you enjoy. Something that benefits you. Something that fills your wants or desires. Love as a taking action. When Jesus uses the word love, he means something completely different. “As the Father has loved me, so also I have loved you.” That’s not love as a taking action but as a giving action. In his first letter, John wrote, “This is how we have come to know love: Jesus laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16). To paraphrase, “As the Father has given me everything, so also I have given up everything for you.” Love as self-sacrifice for the good of another. That’s the meaning of Good Friday, isn’t it—really the meaning of the whole Christian faith. We are counted as children of God because Jesus gives us his holiness while taking our sin. Day by day we have assurance and hope, even in the worst troubles, because nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus (Romans 8:35). When this life is done, we have hope of a place prepared for us by the One who gave up everything for us (John 14:2).
  2. And after Jesus defines love, he then says, “Remain in my love.” If his love is what he has given and still gives, then remaining in his love means that we keep receiving what he keeps giving. This is Jesus’ own confirmation sermon to you. The words from Jesus and the words about Jesus are the Gospel. “Remain in my love.” Keep hearing the Gospel. Keep worshiping in God’s house. Keep reading the Word yourself. Keep connecting with one another as the body of Christ in the Church.

“Obey My Commands.”

  1. Those are two words that we don’t really like to hear. “Obey” and “command.” And the reason we don’t like those words is because it means we have to do what someone else wants. We bristle at the thought because of our old broken human nature—the flesh—the old Adam in us that is always intent on serving self. It’s that same broken human nature that has redefined love from a giving action to a taking action. We want to be our own bosses and do what we want with our own time—with the things we put our energy into. And when we do that—when we live and act as our own bosses, it usually isn’t a happy thing. We get angry, furious, that everyone else isn’t going along with our wonderful plans. We’re left frustrated and empty.
  2. When Jesus tells us to hold on to his commands, he is not asking us to do anything he hasn’t done himself. He obeyed his Father’s commands, even when it meant his own great suffering and death. When Jesus tells us to obey or hold on to his commands, he is telling us to follow his example. “If you hold on to my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have held on to my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Imitating Christ sounds like a wonderful thing until we realize that we still have to deal with our own broken human nature. We’re still stuck on serving ourselves above all things. But remember that the love of Jesus Christ is a giving love. He has given us something. Along with love, he gives us power—power to overcome selfish flesh. Power to do what he commands. That is the reason why he tells us to remain in his love—so we will be connected to him as the source of our love, our power and strength. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And Jesus tells us where all this leads. “I have told you these things to that my joy would continue to be in you and that your joy would be complete.” Self-service brings joy in the short-term and frustration in the long-term. Being connected to Christ, remaining in his love and holding on to his commands brings us complete joy—an inward joy—a peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).

“Go and Bear Fruit.”

  1. When you were studying the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, you learned, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.” Jesus says the same thing here. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will endure, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” We didn’t choose him. That’s a very practical thing to consider on Confirmation Day. Most of us are here because we were born into a Christian family, or born into this Christian congregation. The rest of us who are here came here for various reasons. Some married a member of the church and eventually became a member. Some came for the school. Some came for other reasons. Then, when we came to worship, we heard the gospel of Jesus. St. Paul said, “He determined the appointed times and the boundaries where they would live. He did this so they would seek God and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27). He chose us. He chose us and led us to hear his message. And he did all of this for a purpose. So that his name would be hallowed, his kingdom would come, and his will would be done on earth. He did all this so that we would bear fruit—fruit for him. St. Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruits of faith that spring forth from love—the love Jesus himself has given us. The good deeds we do, we do empowered by him.

Conclusion: Jesus said a few more things that relate to Catechism instruction and Confirmation Day. “No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you continue to do the things I instruct you. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you.” In your classes, it wasn’t just me teaching. It wasn’t just Pastor Heyer or Pastor Dorn. It was Jesus himself, because it was his Word that we were teaching. He calls you friends because he made his plans known to you. So remain in his love. Hold on to his commands. Bear much fruit. You aren’t alone in life. Your dearest Friend goes with you all the way.

Amen.

 

John 15:9–17

As the Father has loved me, so also I have loved you. Remain in my love. 10If you hold on to my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have held on to my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you these things so that my joy would continue to be in you and that your joy would be complete. 12“This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you continue to do the things I instruct you. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will endure, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17These things I am instructing you, so that you love one another.” (EHV)

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Jesus Himself Is Our Peace

Sermon on John 20:19-31 for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 5 & 8, 2018

  1. Jesus greeted his disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” How would you define the word peace? I think most people would define peace by talking about what peace is not. Peace is the opposite of war, …or the opposite of strife, …or the opposite of Well, we still haven’t found out what peace is. Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, so they probably spoke Hebrew or something close to it, Aramaic. Some of you know what the standard Hebrew greeting is: Shalom! A word that means peace. But shalom as peace also has the sense of completeness, that is, everything the way it should be, everything right. Yes, that sounds like a good definition of peace.
  2. And that peace was something the disciples didn’t have. “On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews.” They had seen what happened to Jesus on Friday, and they were afraid the Jewish leaders would come after them, too. Along with fear, they probably felt shame, too. What did they all do when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane? They ran all directions. Peter and John did follow for a while, but most of them abandoned Jesus. And then there was Thomas. Thomas didn’t have peace either. Along with fear and shame, Thomas’ peace was ruined by doubt. Even when ten of the remaining disciples said they had seen Jesus alive, Thomas doubted. He had to see Jesus to believe it. Even with the other ten disciples telling him, he wouldn’t believe it. That shows us that Thomas’ doubts came from within— strong doubts, dark doubts.
  3. So Jesus comes to them and says, “Peace be with you.” “Completeness.” “Restoration of the way things should be.” With the ten, Easter evening, he drives out the fear by simply appearing. “Our Friend overcame death, he can overcome anything.” He also drove out their shame. They abandoned him—but he didn’t abandon them. Just by being there, Jesus was showing that he forgave them. With his greeting of peace he forgave them. Then there was Thomas—not with the disciples Easter evening, but the week later. Jesus drove away his doubts by appearing, with his word of peace, and by telling Thomas the exact words Thomas had said. “You need to see my hands? Put your finger here. Touch me and see. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.” You see, Jesus word of peace was not just a greeting. It was not just a wish. Jesus himself was their peace.
  4. We have problems with peace, too. Some of us have the same problems as the disciples. Fear. Oh, there’s plenty out there, isn’t there? There are the things you see on the TV news. There is the news you hear from the doctor. There is the news you hear from relatives and neighbors. And there are so many fears from within. And what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For the fears he says to us what he said to them. “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Whatever the crisis is, you are not alone. When the disciples were afraid on Thursday night he told them, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14). He tells us that he has overcome the world (John 16:33). He tells us that when this life is done, we will see him. “Where I am you may be also. (John 14:3).
  5. And then there’s the doubt.  And there’s plenty of doubt out there. Faithlessness. You see it when TV personalities publicly degrade and dismiss Christians and the Christian faith. I see it in scholarship—I bought a book last week that was supposed to be about Jesus’ week between Palm Sunday and Easter. I thought “This will be great. Bringing the four gospels together and adding historical insight.” But it was a book full of doubt. Its conclusion was, “We don’t know what the disciples saw. Resurrection is a parable or a metaphor.” But what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For the doubts, he sets his Gospel Word in front of us, to hear and to read. There we see what he has done—and what he has done for us. Where we have the word of Jesus, we also have Jesus. This is how he is present and how he gives himself and all his grace to us today. The disciple John said this at the end of today’s Gospel: These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Life means our connection to God. It also means our peace.
  6. And then there’s shame. Guilt about what you did or what you didn’t do. What you should have done but didn’t—and the memory just won’t go away. But what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” What did John the Baptist call Jesus? “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Your sin and shame. All of it. Mine. All of it. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7).
  7. And then there are the other regrets that disturb our peace. The “what ifs.” What if I had chosen a different career? What if I had made a different decision? Would my life be different? Better? And what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For all the regrets, the thoughts about what choices we have made or how things could be different, he invites us to put everything, past, present and future into his hands.  “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9).
  8. And then there’s the anger that disturbs our peace. Sometimes it burns long, doesn’t it? Sometimes the anger is turned inward on ourselves. Sometimes the anger is directed at another person. Sometimes the anger just burns. All these things destroy our peace. And what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you!” For the anger, whether directed inward or outward, Jesus freely gave his disciples forgiveness an peace, and he sent them on a mission of forgiveness. “Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:21-22).
  9. Jesus gave his disciples peace. More than a greeting or a wish. He gave them peace by giving them himself. Then he sent them on a mission of peace. We have a mission of peace, too. First of all, to find and hold the peace of Christ ourselves. To keep looking at these words that are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ and by believing we have life in his name. Our closing hymn today has the phrase: “Seek where you are found.” It’s talking about reading the Gospel, hearing the Gospel, finding Christ in his Word and in his Supper. Then our mission of peace is to share and proclaim this same peace. Sometimes, when we’re at a loss and we know we should share Christ with someone but don’t know how—just invite them. That’s what some of the first disciples did. They said, “Come and see” (John 1:46). Being a Christian friend with a listening ear is our mission of peace, too. We live in very strange times. We have all kinds of communication devices and services. Phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more that I probably don’t know about. And with all this communication— people aren’t really communicating. People are feeling more and more isolated. That’s why drug addiction is up. Suicide rates are up. People don’t have others they can really talk to. That can be your mission of peace, too. Ask somebody, “How are you doing?” and really mean it. Wait for an answer. Be that Christian friend, that listening ear. And share the peace of Christ. Remind a troubled friend of our forgiveness in Christ, or of God’s promise to provide, or of Jesus and his assurance to be with us always. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” Jesus says.
  10. Without Jesus we will have no peace. That was the state of mind the disciples had Easter evening when the doors were locked. They had all been doubters too. They thought Jesus was dead. So they had not peace. That was Thomas’ problem. Doubt had darkened his heart. He thought Jesus was dead. He was without Christ and without peace. And this is what we are seeing in our world. People without Christ are without peace. Some show their lack of peace with angry words. Some with violent actions. Some by shutting the rest of the world out. So what will eternity be for them? It will be the same. No peace, only with no opportunity for grace either. Now is a time of grace for the world. That’s why the end hasn’t come yet. Now is the time for our mission of peace. Jesus himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

Amen.

 

 

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” 22After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue to doubt, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (EHV)

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It Is Finished!

Sermon on John 19:17-30 for Good Friday, Midday, March 30, 2018

  1. “Carrying his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.” That may sound matter-of-fact that Jesus carried his own cross. It probably wasn’t the whole cross but the crossbar, the horizontal piece, about four inches by eight inches by six or seven feet long—about 130 pounds[1]. He’s carrying this 130 pound beam after being kept awake all night, after being beaten and whipped—the whipping would have caused some blood loss. In Matthew, Mark and Luke we read that the Romans forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for some of the distance to Golgotha.
  2. “There they crucified him with two others, one on each side, and Jesus in the middle.” No, Jesus wasn’t the only one crucified. The Romans crucified many. It was their punishment for people in the territories they had conquered who weren’t Roman citizens. The Romans ruled with brutality and fear—and that was why they used crucifixion for execution. The Kirk Douglas movie Spartacus, depicted a slave rebellion in 71 B.C., and at the end of the movie, thousands of slaves were crucified along the roads near Rome. It was meant to be painful, shameful, and horrible. People usually didn’t die from blood loss but from exhaustion because having your arms stretched upward makes breathing very difficult, especially when it is hard to support yourself.
  3. 19Pilate also had a notice written and fastened on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that ‘this man said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” A written notice was also part of the shame. Imagine being marched to your death with a sign carried before you that said “This is a thief.” “This is a rebel.” Only Jesus’ title isn’t shameful—“This is the King of the Jews.” Pilate didn’t necessarily want to shame Jesus, but the people who brought Jesus to him. During the trial he asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” He didn’t think Jesus was any kind of king or any kind of threat to Rome. He was angry because the Jewish leaders woke him up early in the morning and shamed him into sending Jesus to his death. “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). So he put up the sign to irritate the Jewish leaders—and the sign did irritate them.
  4. “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier. They also took his tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it. Instead, let’s cast lots to see who gets it.” This was so that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. So the soldiers did these things.” For Jesus, his garments, his clothing, was all he had. He didn’t own any property. He said “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Dividing up all he had there, at the foot of the cross, was part of the shame. The soldiers didn’t have the good manners to do it later or do it out of sight. No. “Your life is over. You won’t even need your clothing. Here, let’s make a game of it to see who will get it!”
  5. “Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene were standing near the cross. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son!” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother!” And from that time this disciple took her into his own home.” When you are sick, or you have some physical ailment or problem—a sprained ankle or a broken arm, what consumes your thoughts? Your problem. Your pain. Your need for help. But look at Jesus. Not Jesus. Tonight we will hear his words from the cross, and in three of them, his thoughts were about others. “Father, forgive them.” “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” “Woman, here is your son! Son, here is your mother!” Even in pain and suffering, Jesus kept the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” Jesus fulfilled the commands of God in our place—even when suffering and dying. Jesus kept the commandment “You shall not murder,” which we have learned also means being aware or our neighbors’ bodily needs. He provided for his mother’s needs. Here on the cross, we see our Savior, perfect in his obedience, perfect in his love.
  6. “After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” 29A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” In the Nicene Creed we confess “He became fully human.” And here we see his humanity. God doesn’t need to be thirsty. He’s God—spirit, above and beyond any need. But in human form—fully human, he is thirsty. This tells us something about Jesus’ suffering. It wasn’t easier because of his divine nature. It wasn’t just the appearance of suffering, but real pain, real thirst, real anguish. And he felt it all—along with abandonment by his Father—as the Lamb of God, bearing the wages of sin for the whole world—taking what we deserved for our rebellion, our sins, known and unknown, willing and unwilling, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.”
  7. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.” “It is finished.” What is finished? Everything. The suffering, the work of salvation, the reconciliation—everything. Finished. In the original Greek of the New Testament, “It is finished” is one word. Some scholars have found it on ancient bills or loan statements. It’s what the merchant or banker would write on the statement to mean “Paid in full.” “Finished” means nothing more needs to be done. It’s all complete. Our minds have a problem with that. Sometimes we’re misled by the popular idea of karma, that life is a great balancing act. You do bad things, you have to do good things to balance them out. The problem with that is that you never know when you’ve done enough, or if you did the right thing to balance out the wrong. But what does Jesus say? “It is finished.” It is enough! He has taken away the sin of the world. Sometimes guilt simply overwhelms us.  Deep down, we know “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That’s something that we know from our conscience (See  Romans 1:32). But Jesus has the answer. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). He says, “It is finished.” He did it all. St. Paul explained “It is finished” when he said, “So then, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Indeed, what the law was unable to do, because it was weakened by the flesh, God did, when he sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin. God condemned sin in his flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law would be fully satisfied in us who are not walking according to the flesh, but according to the spirit” (Romans 8:1-2). With us, with all that we know, all that we feel, and all that we do, there is nothing but doubt. With that word, “finished,” there can be no doubts. With the one who said it, Jesus, there can be no doubts. Let that short sentence, “It is finished,” be the comfort for conscience, the comfort in trouble, the comfort when we face the end of life.

Amen.

John 19:17-30

Carrying his own cross, he went out to what is called the Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him with two others, one on each side, and Jesus in the middle. 19Pilate also had a notice written and fastened on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that ‘this man said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” 23When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier. They also took his tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it. Instead, let’s cast lots to see who gets it.” This was so that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. So the soldiers did these things. 25Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene were standing near the cross. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son!” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother!” And from that time this disciple took her into his own home. 28After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” 29A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit. (EHV)

[1]http://www.woodweb.com/cgi-bin/calculators/calc.pl calculated with dogwood, which some traditions claim was the type of wood used for the cross.

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About Leonardo’s Last Supper

It’s one of the most famous paintings in the world. It’s also misunderstood.

Why are Jesus and his disciples all sitting on one side of a very long table?

The painting was made for a dining hall in a monastery. It is 29 feet wide and 15 feet high. The figures are slightly larger than life-size. In the painting, the perspective and the lines in the painting match the dimensions of the room so it would give the monks eating in the dining hall the feeling that Jesus and the disciples were there in the room eating with them–as if they were sitting at the head table at a banquet.

Why are the disciples making all kinds of gestures?

The painting depicts the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ statement, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” On the right side of the painting, one disciple throws his arms out in dismay. Another points upward, another points to himself as if to say, “Surely not I, Lord.” The three on the end point toward Jesus and give dismayed looks to one another. “Which of us is he talking about?”

The left side of the painting has more action. John leans over as Peter whispers, “Ask him which one he means.” Judas is between them, holding his money bag and spilling the salt. Peter has a knife or sword in his other hand–later he will clumsily hit Malchus in the ear with it in Gethsemane. The three disciples on the left end mirror those on the right end, looking dismayed and saying to one another, “Which one of us is he talking about?”

What is the square shape right beneath Jesus?

The monks wanted to have a doorway from the dining hall to another part of the monastery. The painting had been flaking away for years, so they didn’t think it was that valuable, so they cut a doorway through Jesus’ feet.

The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper

The painting doesn’t really depict the giving of the Lord’s Supper. If it did, there should be a large chalice and a loaf of bread. Instead we see many cups and many small round loaves of bread. Perhaps this to make the table in the painting look similar to the table settings in the dining hall.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Supper_(Leonardo_da_Vinci)

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Repentance Is Healing, Healing Is Repentance

Sermon on Isaiah 1:2-20, John 8:2-11 for the Confessional Service for Holy Week, March 27, 2018

  1. A long time ago—I must have been about nine years old—I had my first experience with Novocain at the dentist. It made my lip feel like rubber, like it wasn’t a part of me, so what did I do? I started to chew on my lip. It was the dumbest thing to do, I know. Dumber things were yet to come. So I had this sore on my lip from chewing on it when it was numb. How do you get a wound like that to heal? Rinse well after every meal. Keep it clean and leave it alone, right? Well, I just couldn’t do that. I had to lick it. I had to touch it. I had to look in the mirror to see what it looked like. Because I couldn’t leave the wound alone, it took about a month and a half to heal. I still have a lump of scar tissue where it was.
  2. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God himself speaks to the people of Judah about their sins—how their sins are like wounds they have inflicted on themselves. “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.” It is pretty obvious that our sins can and do hurt and harm other people. If your anger moves you to violence, you are going to hurt somebody. If you don’t keep a tight reign on your tongue, you’ll say something hurtful to someone, or your words will travel through the grapevine and cause widespread damage to someone’s reputation. Yes, our sins hurt others. Today, I want to focus on how our sins hurt us—your individual sins hurt you.
  3. So, let’s say you have a problem with anger, only you are not moved to violence, you’re not even moved to say angry words. Is it a matter of mere thought, nothing more? God’s law addresses our thoughts, doesn’t it? “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is still in the darkness. …[he] walks in the darkness and doesn’t not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. …  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him” (1 John 2:9, 11, 3:15). Your anger may not affect the person you are angry with, but it affects you. It affects your connection with your God. Keep anger in your heart and mind long enough and you get cemented into that way of thinking. It is a self-inflicted wound on your soul.
  4. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about lust and desire—sins of thought. “I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). No—it may not physically hurt anyone else. It does do something to you. St. Paul wrote about how people become less and less sensitive when they get obsessed with desire: “Do not walk any longer as the Gentiles walk, in their futile way of thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of their hearts. Because they have no sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality, with an ever-increasing desire to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19). We think of hardening of the heart with the King of Egypt or of the Pharisees, hardening their hearts when the truth was right in front of their noses–but hardening the heart happens when we lose sensitivity to sin. Paul talked about it as “searing the conscience” (1 Timothy 4:2), burning or scarring the conscience so that it isn’t aware or sensitive to sin anymore.[1]
  5. What happened to King David’s desire as he looked out and saw Bathsheba on her rooftop? It didn’t just remain a desire. He acted on it. And then the way he dealt with his guilt led to deception, murder and a cover-up. And then the guilt ate away at him. Refusing to deal with the guilt, refusing to acknowledge and confess sin were killing him. In Psalm 32 he wrote something that sounds a lot like the self-inflicted wounds we heard about in Isaiah 1, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away as I groaned all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me. My moisture was dried up by the droughts of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover up my guilt. I said, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-5).
  6. We wound ourselves with sin—the sins that are only inward, sins of thought and desire—and the sins that are outward. We wound ourselves by carrying the guilt ourselves—pretending that there is no problem at all when the truth is, there are many problems, and we’ve done it all to ourselves. It’s like me, biting my lip, picking at it, licking at it, re-opening the wound and making healing impossible. Our God wants something better for us. He wants healing. He wants us to repent so that he can forgive. He wants us to repent, turn, change our thoughts and actions so that we can heal. Again we read in Isaiah 1: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
  7. In John chapter 8, we see a woman who had a problem. We know only one thing about her past—that she was caught committing adultery. Was this a one-time fling? Was this a habit? We don’t know. Jesus’ enemies wanted to frame him by asking him a no-win question. “The Law of Moses said such a woman should be stoned to death. What do you say?” If Jesus would have said, “Yes, stone her,” Jesus’ enemies would have taken him to the Romans who made it illegal for the Jews to execute anyone (John 18:31). If he would have said, “No, don’t stone her,” they would have made it known that Jesus was encouraging people to abandon the Law of Moses. This woman is there, thinking she’s about to die, and Jesus enemies are asking trick questions, and Jesus is drawing something in the dirt with his finger. As he always does—Jesus isn’t going to play the game with the trick question. Instead, he goes to the heart of the matter. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” What did Jesus just do? He held up a mirror. “You’re concentrating on this woman’s sin—something she was caught doing—think about your own sin. Look in the depths of your hearts.” So they dropped their rocks and walked away.
  8. Now look at what happens next: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Does this mean that since everyone sins, sin is not really a problem, so there’s no use condemning it? No. God gave the commandments, didn’t he. God is concerned about sin—what it does to society, what our sins do to others, and what our sins do to ourselves. Jesus is concerned about repentance. He wants healing to happen. In Ezekiel, God says, “‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” That’s why the One who was without sin did not cast the first stone. Instead he said, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (ESV). “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV2011). He wanted her to have forgiveness and healing. To heal, she had to stop sinning—in her case, stop the adultery.
  9. Now how do we stop sinning? We are broken human beings with a broken human nature, and we won’t stop sinning until the day we die. We pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Keep temptations away. Give us strength to withstand temptation. We study God’s commands to sharpen the consciences we have dulled and to soften the hearts we have hardened. We also look to Jesus, who said, “Go, and sin no more.” We look to him for guidance and for strength—because we know we don’t have it in us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that our merciful and faithful High priest suffered when he was tempted, and he is able to help those who are being tempted.
  10. Giving in to sin, or thinking sin is no big deal only wounds us more. That kind of thinking doesn’t take God’s law seriously—the law that tells us what we should and shouldn’t be doing. That kind of thinking doesn’t take God’s gospel seriously either. If we don’t think we need forgiveness or don’t desire it, we really reject it. Confessing our sins to God and receiving his forgiveness should be like breathing in the Christian’s life. Out with the old, in with the new. Out with the sin. In with the forgiveness, pardon, peace and healing. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Constantly relying on God for forgiveness… and healing.

Amen.

[1] I read an article last week about how people who view pornography on a regular basis actually cause brain damage to themselves—change to the structure and reasoning power of the brain. (http://bit.ly/2IKK6F9, see also https://bit.ly/2FWJheM which quotes JAMA Psychiatry) There are contrary articles that refute the brain damage claim (https://bit.ly/2IIxSNx) , but do confirm a change in sensitivity and desire.

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Jesus Defines Glory

Sermon on John 12:20–33 for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 18, 2018

  1. How do you define “glory”? Glory can mean praise. “Give glory to God” means the same thing as “Give praise to God.” But there’s more to “glory” than praise. “Glory” also means giving credit where credit is due. God said, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). Glory also has to do with fame, and when we use “glory” in a secular sense, that’s usually what we mean. Long ago I remember seeing TV commercials for video tapes: “Relive the glory days of the Packers, super memories of the Super Bowls, and the glory days of Vince Lombardi and the ‘Ice Bowl.’ Only three monthly payments of $19.95.” Fame and awesomeness. That’s what we mean by “glory.”
  2. Our Sunday Gospels are out of order so we can have Palm Sunday on Palm Sunday. Today’s Gospel is really from Palm Sunday afternoon. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem. He just rode into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “Hosanna” and waving palm branches. He may be near the Temple or in the Temple courts, and he says “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” I would imagine that got the disciples attention. They were probably thinking, “This is it! Now Jesus is going to bring about that kingdom of God he’s been talking about.” But what does he say next? He talks about death. His death. His suffering, and suffering for his disciples. “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” It can’t be by human or worldly standards of glory, can it? Jesus is defining his glory. Not the praise from the crowd. Not visible success. Not wealth. Not a constant stream of food being multiplied for the masses. Not a visible kingdom of an invincible Israel. None of these are the glory he has in mind. Other people are thinking about these things, but Jesus is thinking about a glory that is much higher.

I. Glory in Dying for the World.

  1. He talks about death, his own upcoming death, with a parable—a short parable, so short that you really can’t call it a story. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it continues to be one kernel. But if it dies, it produces much grain.” A single seed remains a single seed if it isn’t planted. If you plant it, bury it, it then ceases to be a seed and grows into a new plant that produces many seeds. Jesus is illustrating what has to happen to him before his glory. He had been wandering through Judea and Galilee, teaching and healing and feeding thousands and doing many more things. If he would continue doing things that way, he wouldn’t achieve his higher glory. Like the grain of wheat, he has to be buried, and after he rises, the preaching of One, Jesus, becomes the preaching of the eleven disciples—a preaching of the risen Christ, and then becomes the preaching hundreds and thousands and millions. For Jesus, an earthly glory would be limited and stagnant. After his resurrection, Jesus would say, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter his glory” (Luke 24:26). Mocking? Whipping? Crowning with thorns? Nailing? Dying? …all as glory? Yes—the glory of giving himself in love.

II. The Glory of Leading His People to a Heavenly Focus.

  1. If talking about his own death surprised the disciples, listen to what he talks about next. He says, “This is what it means that you follow me. You follow me even in this, in selfless love, in suffering, even in dying. “Anyone who loves his life destroys it. And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Living life with selfish goals leads to loss. Jesus told a parable about a rich man who had a good crop and built new barns to store all his grain. He sat back and thought—“Now I’m all set for many years.” …but then he died that night. He loved his life. He loved what he had done. He loved the future he had built for himself, but in a moment, it was all gone. (Luke 12:13-21). That’s what Jesus means when he says “Anyone who loves his life destroys it.”
  2. “And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life.” There are many people who “hate life.” We see it in the way people express their anger at life and at other people. We see the tragedy of those who end their own lives. Jesus is not talking about hating life that way. Sometimes the word “hate” is used to talk about a comparison or about giving something a lesser value. “The one who values his life in this world as a lesser thing will hold on to it for eternal life.” Jesus endured Good Friday because he knew Easter and Ascension were coming. What Jesus says harshly here, Palm Sunday afternoon, he says very gently on Maundy Thursday night. “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you may also be where I am.” (John 14:1-3).

III. The Glory of Doing His Father’s Will.

  1. When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, one of the petitions was “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” That petition is about God doing as he pleases, but the last part is really a prayer for obedience—our prayer that we would be just as obedient as the angels in heaven. If all Jesus did was teach his disciples to pray “Your will be done,” that would have been good because we all need to learn obedience. But Jesus did more than that. He prayed that himself. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39). And he prayed “Your will be done” when he knew exactly what doing his Father’s will meant—his own suffering and death. Palm Sunday afternoon he says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, this is the reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!”
  2. 2. Then the Father speaks from heaven. At Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Here he answers Jesus, “I have glorified [my name] and I will glorify it again.” That was the Father’s approval of what Jesus had done and what he was about to do. The glory of Jesus life, death and resurrection is God’s glory too—expressing his love by giving his best—by giving of himself.

Conclusion: So when we think of glory, think of Jesus glory, even in the midst of suffering. Think of Jesus glorifying his Father and doing his will by laying down his life. Since Jesus death was painful, tragic and shameful, does that mean that God was not glorified? Far from it. It had the Father’s stamp of approval. He was doing what his Father wanted, and after his Good Friday, Jesus had his Easter and Ascension. The Father’s glory came first—Jesus’ hidden glory would come as he suffered, and a greater glory would come later. As the disciples went out proclaiming the gospel, some lost their lives. Did that mean that God was not glorified? No—quite the opposite. They hallowed God’s name, helped his kingdom to come, and did God’s will. When they lost their lives, they received the crown of glory that will never perish spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:4). When we think of our glory, we should remember what we pray for every day—that God’s name would be hallowed and that his will would be done. We may see some rewards and benefits in this life. Or we may see few. But obedience to God’s commands and glorifying him by giving ourselves to him and to our neighbors comes first. That should be our glory—our goal. Greater glory will come later. A heavenly reward will come later. That is Jesus’ pattern that the apostles were called to follow—and that we are called to follow. It is also his promise. “If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also.”

Amen.

 

 

John 12:20-33

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Festival. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew. Andrew came with Philip and told Jesus.  23Jesus answered them, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it continues to be one kernel. But if it dies, it produces much grain. 25Anyone who loves his life destroys it. And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.  27“Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, this is the reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!”  A voice came from heaven: “I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again.”  29The crowd standing there heard it and said it thundered. Others said an angel talked to him. 30Jesus answered, “This voice was not for my sake but for yours.  31“Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate what kind of death he was going to die.

 

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Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests

Sermon on Hebrews 10:19-25

Lenten Worship:
St. Stephen, Beaver Dam, February 21, 2018
Salem, Lowell, February 28, 2018
St. John, Juneau, March 7, 2018
Good Shepherd, Beaver Dam, March 21, 2018

  1. When we build or remodel churches, one of the first things we think about is access. New churches are built on one level so there are no steps or barriers. Our older churches think of that, too. St. Stephen’s had a ramp and elevator added to make fewer barriers. We distribute communion at floor level now so that the steps are no longer a barrier or hindrance. In the Old Testament, it was different—and we have to remember that both the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple were built to God’s design. In the Tabernacle and Temple, you could see a plan that had limited access and There was an outer court called “the court of the Gentiles,” which meant that was as far as non-Jews could enter. Then there was a “court of the women,” which was as far as the women of Israel could enter. Then there was the “court of the Israelites,” which is where husbands and fathers as heads of their families would enter and Levites and priests would assist them in preparing their burnt offerings. Then there was the Temple building itself, which only the priests could enter. The back room was the Most Holy Place which contained the Ark of the Covenant. Enter that room, and you are entering the presence of God. The entrance of the Most Holy Place was covered with a curtain that was woven into itself so that it was about five inches thick. Only the High Priest was to enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement—a festival connected with the Jewish New Year. He only entered after the appropriate sacrifice had been made at the altar, and he brought the blood of the sacrifice with him and sprinkled the blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant.
  2. Why did God design his Temple with limited access and a room almost no one would enter? We would think that if you build a building as fancy as a Tabernacle or Temple, you would let people see it. But limited access was the whole point. Remember at the very beginning, God limited the access to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were driven out because they sinned against the one command God had given them. Isaiah said, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
  3. Think about that limited access and what it meant as you now hear our reading from Hebrews 10:19-25:

        Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. 20 It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. 21 We also have a great priest over the house of God. 22 So let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.

      24 Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

  1. That first sentence should bring a sense of fear and awe. The whole point of the limited access was to be a constant reminder, “your sins have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2), but now the writer of Hebrew says, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus.” Do you remember what happened to that five inch thick curtain in the Temple on Good Friday? It ripped from top to bottom. One scholar suggested that it was sixty feet high and five inches thick, so it must have sounded like thunder when it ripped. What message is God giving now? Not limited access, but an open door. “Come on in!”
  2. There is a second message here. Beyond open access, there is a message about who we are because of Christ. Who alone was supposed to enter the Most Holy Place? The High Priest. If you are entering the presence of God in the Most Holy Place, who must you be? It means you must be a priest, too. What the writer of Hebrews says confirms that. “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Priests were constantly washing because of the many sacrifices they were performing. There was even a large basin near the altar where they washed hands and feet before and after each sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews is comparing that to our Christian baptism that not only cleanses the outside but the inside. “Our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience.” That’s much like what Peter says, “Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). With Jesus and with our baptism into his life, death and resurrection, every day is a Day of Atonement, and every Christian is a priest before God. Just as the High Priest did not enter alone, we do not enter alone either. The High Priest brought with him the blood of a bull, sacrificed on the altar. We enter God’s presence with the blood of Jesus, sacrificed on the cross. In baptism, his death covers us. The meaning of his death, taking away the sin of the world, covers us.
  3. There are some Christian denominations that call their pastors “priests,” but the truth is, every Christian is a priest. One job priests had was to pray for the people. As a Christian, you can pray at any time and any place. In our prayers and in our constant thoughts, we are always commending our bodies and souls and all things into the hands of our almighty God.
  4. A priest also had the other main duty of performing sacrifices for the people—but for us, that work of sacrifice has already been done. The writer of Hebrews is very clear, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices on a daily basis, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. In fact, he sacrificed for sins once and for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). No more sacrifices are needed because Jesus offered himself. So what sacrifices should we make? Certainly nothing can pay for sin because Jesus paid for sins already. The writer tells us about sacrifices of service and praise: “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day ” St. Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do everything to the gloryof God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Every-thing we do is our priestly duty to glorify God. Martin Luther once put it this way, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” (https://goo.gl/8vh8n9) What is your job? What is your station in life? Father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, teacher, student, boss, employee, farmer, plumber, driver, preacher, secretary—then do your best with the abilities God has given you. That is your calling. The work God has set in front of you is the good deeds God has prepared in advance for you to do. You don’t have to look for something special to “do for God.” Do your job. Wash the dishes. Vacuum a rug. Fix a window. Take out the garbage. Do your duty for your family. Those are God-pleasing works. They don’t earn heaven for you because Jesus already did that. Instead, by doing your best, you hallow God’s name, and do his will.
  5. Let’s look at that listing of our priestly duties once again: “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day ” Our everyday work is sanctified service—our duties to our fellow Christians are also part of our priestly duties. Come together. Worship. It was never God’s intention that Christians should be like little islands, floating out in the vast ocean of the world. Everyone looking out for himself or herself. He wants us to have the habit of meeting together for the purpose of encouraging each other. The early Christians did that: “They continued to hold firmly to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). When the church stops being about that: about the word of God and encouraging one another with it, then the church stops being the church. Then it becomes a club, and not a very good club. If everyone has the attitude, “Church should be all about me,” then it’s no longer about Christ, and it’s no longer about us as the body of Christ on earth. Peter wrote: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
  6. We have access to God’s presence by the body of Christ—the new and living way—so let us approach God boldly with our prayers in every time of need and for others and their needs.

Amen.

 

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