Sunday, March 26, 2017

May the Bread of Life be your daily food.

Sermon for Lent 4, March 26, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and from His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed for you on the cross, dead, and buried, yet risen to live and reign forever.  Amen.
Exodus 16:11-17  The LORD said to Moses,  12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites.  Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread.  Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'"  13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.  15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?"  For they did not know what it was.  Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.  16 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs.  Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'"  17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.
May the Bread of Life be your daily food.
Dear lowly sinner-saints,
            Have you ever wondered why God picked Abraham’s descendants to be His chosen people?  I think most of us would guess that God chose to make that people a great nation because of their loyalty and faith, or at least that of Abraham who was credited with righteousness for believing God’s promise.  However, when you read the histories of Abraham and his descendants, it really makes you wonder what God saw in them.
            Consider Abraham, who is remembered for his great faith.  Though he believed God, on at least a couple of occasions, Abraham was afraid that the Lord wouldn’t protect him, so he had his wife become a concubine, or worse, for Abraham’s preservation and benefit.  Surprisingly, it seems that Abraham was even rewarded quite well for his deception.
            Going down the line from Abraham, we meet Isaac who displayed little greatness, next is Jacob who for personal gain cheated his brother and deceived his father, and later married four wives.  The following generation was no better, for ten of the sons conspired to sell the favored son, Joseph, into slavery, but only after deciding it was more profitable to sell him rather than simply kill him. 
Four hundred years later, at the time of the events of our text, Abraham’s descendants were being led by God through the wilderness to the Promised Land.  They had just witnessed numerous great miracles on their behalf.  They had been enriched by the plunder of Egypt as God delivered them from slavery, and still, every time their journey got a bit uncomfortable, they turned against the Lord and grumbled.  Immediately before our text, when their food supplies ran low, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, but in fact, their mumbling was really against the Lord God who had made Himself their Savior. 
Considering that history of a lack of faith in God’s promises, you have to wonder, why did God keep helping them?  Why did God chose to provide food for this complaining, rebellious people?  Why didn’t God just let them die out in that wilderness and pick someone more worthy of His love?
Now, maybe you never have thoughts like that.  Maybe i’s just me and some other despicable sinners I have met.  But the truth is, many of us sometimes get the feeling that we deserve better than what we get.  And, it seems to be the condition of sinful man that whenever things aren’t exactly as we would like in any particular moment, we start to complain.  Furthermore, whenever we complain about our situation in life, the actual, ultimate target of every complaint is the Lord Almighty.  Thus, whenever we complain about anything, we find ourselves to be exactly as undeserving as those Israelites who were grumbling and complaining out in the wilderness.
So, are you a complainer too?  Well, look back on your days.  Ladies, have you ever grumbled that your husband forgot your birthday or anniversary?  Do you ever complain that he doesn’t pay attention to you like he should?  Men, have you ever grumbled (even just to yourself) that your wife didn’t do something just the way you would like it?  Do you ever consider her “the old ball and chain”? 
But, you don’t have to be married to be susceptible to this sin.  Did you ever complain about your job?  Or your boss?  Or your teacher, or homework?  Or the weather, too much rain or too little, too hot or too cold or too humid?  Are the markets ever too low to suit your needs?  Or the taxes too high?  Are you always perfectly happy with the political leaders elected over us?  Have you ever complained about being sick?  How many of us can honestly say we would thank God if we got cancer?  Can we thank God about our situation if we suffer from depression, heart disease, or chronic pain?  Can any of us even comprehend thanking God when we lose a loved one to death?  Is there ever an occasion when bad things happen to us that we don’t say, “Why, Oh God, why me?”
At the beginning of this sermon, I addressed you all as lowly sinner-saints.  Now, I understand that you maybe could take a little offense at that.  However, that is what all of us truly are.  You see, as long as we live in this world, we are corrupted with sin, and that makes us think and do and say things that are offensive to God or, at least, should be.  That also is why we complain, and why we sometimes question God’s love and care for us, just like those Israelites.
So, why did God pick Israel to be His chosen family by which to bring the Promised Savior into the world?  Maybe because they are exactly like every other family that has ever inhabited this earth.  They were sinners in need of a Savior, just like you and me.  Thanks be to God, He chose a people by which He would fulfil His promises, and thanks be to God, He has rescued us from our slavery in sin.  Because, the truth is, we are sinners who need a God who will love us in spite of our faults, who will feed us even when we complain, who knows our needs and hears our prayers even before we remember to pray.  Thanks be to God, He sent His Son as the Bread of Life who is both the message and the means of our salvation.  Therefore, dear friends, May the Bread of Life be your daily food.
Whenever we find ourselves comparable to grumbling, stumbling, ungrateful sinners like the Israelites, we can be thankful that Jesus didn’t come to save holy ones but sinners.  We can rejoice that because we have been brought to faith in Jesus, wherein we confess that we truly are sinners who deserve nothing from God’s hand but punishment and death and have done nothing to deserve His favor, yet, in that Christian faith, God counts us as holy for the sake of the suffering and death of His own dear Son.
Because we are all sinners, we all have to be cleansed of our sins.  We all have to grow so in faith that we learn to be content with whatever God gives us.  To our sinful flesh, that seems extremely hard, even impossible.  There are just too many hurts, and too many ways the world troubles us, for us ever to stand faithfully before God on our own.
In our Gospel lesson, we heard of the great miracle by which Jesus fed over five thousand people.  The Israelites were so enamored of the miracle that they ignored the message of salvation Jesus was preaching, and instead, hoped to make Him their king to provide easy bread for them.  Just like their forefathers in the wilderness, they still didn’t understand how God works.  While God certainly knows our physical needs, He isn’t just concerned that we have full bellies and nice houses to live in.  God wants you to live forever in mansions that truly far surpass anything here on earth. 
Jesus had to leave those crowds behind the day He set that table in the wilderness.  They didn’t want the salvation He offered.  The question for us is, “What bread do we want?”  Do we want a false god who is mostly concerned about making this world a better place, or the true God who wants us to live in His family and His mansions forever?
When Abraham’s descendants wanted God only for cheap bread, Jesus said, "I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)  The food we need to live forever isn’t the groceries we bring home from the store, or the wheat and corn we grow in our fields.  It isn’t the medicines that cure diseases or the surgeries that cut out cancers.  It is the One Man who would and could live a perfectly holy life in our place and still be willing to take the punishment and death we deserved for our complaining and lack of faith.
Whenever you might be troubled with wants or fears or even sorrows, remember what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman congregation, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.  What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:28-32)  Jesus answered that question by saying, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8)  And, “Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
Paul also wrote, “Not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:16-17)  The Good News Paul referred to is everything God tells us about what Jesus did to redeem us, to cleanse us of sin, to rescue us from the forces of darkness and from the sentence of everlasting death.  All of that is found in Jesus.  Therefore, Jesus wants us to hear His message and believe it.  He wants us to be consuming that Good News every day of our lives so the devil can’t steal our hearts away. 
How powerful is our Savior?  Powerful enough to provide all the bread millions of people would need to sustain them through forty years of wandering in the desert, placed outside their tents on a daily basis with the dew of the night.  Powerful enough to turn a young boy’s “five barley loaves and two small fish” into a feast for over five thousand people with twelve baskets of leftovers.  Powerful enough to take on the devil’s temptations and win.  Powerful enough to suffer the death and hell we deserved yet rise up from the grave on the third day to live and reign forever at His Father’s side in heaven.  Powerful enough to be our Bread of Life, our Savior and Redeemer, our hope for everlasting life, and our sure confidence for everything we need in this world. 
Dear friends, we are not just sinners.  In God’s eyes, we are saints, set apart to God through faith in Jesus to live and praise Him forever.  Our Jesus was powerful enough to endure every trial, every moment of hunger, every pain, every sorrow, every loss, even death on the cross without ever once complaining or questioning His Father’s plan.  Jesus did that for you.  He did that so God Almighty would count you as one of His holy ones and welcome you into Paradise.  Make this Good News your daily joy and hope.  May the Bread of Life be your daily food.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Guard your house by the finger of God.

Sermon for Lent 3, March 19, 2014
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Amen.
Luke 11:14-28  Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute.  When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed.  15 But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons."  16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.  17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.  18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?  I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub.  19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out?  So then, they will be your judges.  20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.  21 "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.  22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.  23 "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.  24 "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.'  25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.  And the final condition of that man is worse than the first."  27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."  28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
Guard your house by the finger of God.
Dear beloved in the Lord Jesus,
            With a new president in place at the head of our government, there has been much talk, and much disagreement, concerning immigration into our country.  Some want to end all immigration, while more compassionate folks merely seek to stop potential terrorists from coming in to harm our people.  On the other hand, there are many seemingly enlightened intellectuals who believe we must welcome anyone, and any ideology, into our midst, no matter the potential danger.
            Now, if I were making a political speech, I would further explore that issue, but what truly concerns me is the tendency of so many to be unconcerned about the spiritual dangers they welcome into their houses.  As St. Paul wrote, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.(Ephesians 6:12)  What is at stake in this confrontation is nothing less than eternal life and salvation, both, for ourselves and for our families.  What can we do to guard against the forces of evil?  Our text compels us to Guard your house by the finger of God.
            The occasion for our text is a poor man afflicted under the control of a demon.  He had been unable to speak and endured who knows what other trials.  For his benefit, Jesus drove out the demon, most likely with a simple spoken command for the demon to come out.  The demon had no power to resist the command of God’s Son and thus was forced to leave the troubled man whose recovery led to the crowd being amazed, for the former mute was finally able to speak. 
It’s not so surprising that the people were amazed; miraculous healings always amaze us, and certainly, the people of Jesus’ day had known no one else whose command could overpower spiritual enemies the way Jesus did.  What is surprising is the reaction of Jesus’ enemies.  The Jewish religious leaders, who often had Jesus under surveillance, were actually offended that He had helped the poor man, and they accused Jesus of being in league with the devil.  They said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." 
We see two different camps opposing Jesus here.  This first side contends that the demons would be so foolish as to fight against themselves.  Jesus quickly shows the lunacy of that idea and makes it clear that Satan wouldn’t be so reckless.  History is littered with nations which proved that civil war destroys from within.  We can look at present-day Syria and numerous other political houses around our world in which civil infighting causes a terrible, destructive implosion.  Simple logic and experience should have told those leaders that civil war in a kingdom always brings destruction.  Even the Jews’ own history would tell them that: when Absalom rebelled against his father, King David, the kingdom was weakened, and when the northern tribes rebelled against David’s grandson, Rehoboam, the nation was divided and it never again regained its former glory.
The second camp is just as dangerous, however, for it demands a sign from heaven even in the obvious presence of divine demonstration of power.  Luke reports, “Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.”  How blind and foolish is the mind of the unbeliever!  Again, there is ample evidence in our times of people who can read the Bible but do not see that Jesus is the true Son of God, and our Redeemer and Savior, which proves that unless the Holy Spirit has worked faith in us, none of us would be able to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, either. 
            So, let’s consider what is at stake for us spiritually.  On our own, we too would be under Satan’s control and would reject Jesus.  On our own, we would have to defeat the devil’s powers without any armor or weapon.  Therefore, on our own, we would be ruled by the demonic forces that caused sin in the first place.  On our own, we would be destined to suffer under the devil’s control not only in this world, but for all the eternities to come.  It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, does it?  Therefore, Guard your house by the finger of God.
Jesus said, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Jesus could drive out these demons because He is the Son of God and He has true power over all things, as the Psalmist declared, saying, “Lift up your heads, O you gates!  And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!  And the King of glory shall come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle.  Lift up your heads, O you gates!  Lift up, you everlasting doors!  And the King of glory shall come in. (Psalm 24:7-9)  The main point of Jesus healing this mute man is not just to show Jesus’ power, but also to show us our need for His powerful protection in our spiritual houses.
            The man in this text had been under the control of a powerful evil spirit, but Jesus proved that His strength was much greater.  He explained "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.  But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.”  The demons that overpower souls have power and control until Jesus and His Word enter the scene.  Though the demon in our text was mute, others had begged Jesus to leave them be; yet, they all had to obey God’s Son and flee.
The devil is well-armed to control those who allow him in their house, and he has plenty of weapons to scheme his way into our homes.  For example, he uses thoughts of self-righteousness to convince people that they are perfectly fine on their own, so that they think, “Don’t bother me with Jesus’ righteousness.” 
Against Christians, the devil often uses complacency, which misleads us into thinking that because we know about Jesus we have nothing to worry about.  Sadly though, when we grow complacent, we tend to forget about Jesus’ saving power.  We start to wander away from His Word; we start to think that there really isn’t any danger to our house, and that the devil isn’t on the prowl to enter more houses, so we don’t think we need Jesus’ strong guarding of our souls—we imagine we can handle it just fine ourselves, thank you, and just like that we have pushed Jesus out the door. 
Want some evidence of this?  Just observe the many Christians who abandon their confirmation vows, who perhaps attend church only for events like weddings or funerals, Christians who wonder where their Bible is because it’s been ages since they read it.  And sometimes, it’s even people like you and me, if only for a moment or a day, when we turn away from God’s Word to play in own pet sins.
            Jesus said, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.'  And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order.  Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first." 
My friends, we can never let down our guard, and we must never stand alone.  We need to understand that we are in the same position as the mute man in our text out of whom Jesus drove the demon.  Even though we were not demon-possessed, at one time, each of us were also under the devil’s control.  At one time, we were not on Jesus’ side, but through the preaching of His Word and through Baptism, Jesus came in and rescued us from that horrible condition.  Our loving God entered our spiritual house to drive out the devil, and now we need our powerful Savior dwelling in our houses so that the devil can never return to fill the void.
            It has been said that sometimes people get just enough Christianity to inoculate them against true faith.  But, what really happens is that though they begin to believe, they soon turn Jesus out of their house, either through foolishness, or complacency; then the devil returns and regains control, and when Satan comes back in, it is with even more demons than before, and those poor lost souls never realize what they have lost until it is too late.
            Dear Christian friends, Jesus will never abandon us, and the devil can never defeat Jesus.  Christ has already won that eternal war.  When Jesus brings us to faith, He comes to live in us, and as long as He lives in us the devil has no power over us.  The finger of God is the power of His holy Word.  So the message of this text is that we need to stay with Jesus, rather than turn Him out.  And how do we stay strong?  We stay with Jesus where He promises we will find Him, that is, in His Word.  When we allow Jesus to richly and daily fill us with His Word, He empowers us to keep the devil at bay by the Good News of the forgiveness and salvation Christ won for us all. 
When we prayerfully turn to Jesus in any danger, in any trouble, when we turn to Jesus in prayer for any good time, and for every joy, when we give Jesus praise and thanks for all He has done for us, we are reminded of the constant care and protection He gives us.  And when we regularly eat and drink His body and blood in His holy Supper, Jesus strengthens our connection with Himself and arms and defends us against the devil’s attacks. 
So my friends, Guard your house by the finger of God.  The power to defeat the devil is found only in the Word of Christ.  Who is this King of glory?  The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle.  At your Baptism, Jesus drove out those demons that seek to control and destroy you.  There, Jesus swept your house clean of all sin and unrighteousness.  Hold tight to Jesus through regular hearing of His Gospel, for in this, He will continue to preserve the spiritual house of each of us as He continues to live in us.  Lift up your heads, O you gates!  Lift up, you everlasting doors!  And the King of glory shall come in.” (Psalm 24:7-9)  Fill your life with Jesus’ Good News; Guard your house by the finger of God.  Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto everlasting life.  Amen.